Capsizing Columbus

Last Monday, while many our peer schools had the day off, Andover students went to class as usual, disregarding Columbus Day.

Academic curriculums that focus heavily on Columbus’s “discoveries” in North America, inadvertently contribute to widely held and glaringly inaccurate perception of indigenous persons and issues as all but nonexistent. In reality, there are many Native reservations still in existence, and the challenges they face are immense.

“One-quarter of Indian children live in poverty, versus 13 percent in the United States,” explained Theresa M. Pouley, the chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court in Washington state and member of the Indian Law and Order Commission in a 2014 interview with the Washington Post. “Their substance-abuse rates are higher. They’re twice as likely as any other race to die before the age of 24. They have a 2.3 percent higher rate of exposure to trauma. They have two times the rate of abuse and neglect. Their experience with post-traumatic stress disorder rivals the rates of returning veterans from Afghanistan.”

More shocking still are the horrors endured by Native women. According to the US Department of Justice, one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, and nearly half of all Native women will be beaten, stalked or raped by an intimate partner. Even more staggeringly, the murder rates for Native women are ten times higher than the national average on some reservations, and approximately 88 percent of these crimes will be committed by Non-Natives–meaning that tribal governments will be unable to implement any form of punishment due to their lack of criminal jurisdiction under United States law.

In light of these horrifying statistics, the fetishization and mindless appropriation of Native culture–exemplified by “sexy” Halloween costumes and the popularity of Native headdresses at predominantly white music festivals–are egregious. We are not exempt from this: problematic costumes can be seen almost every year at Andover’s upcoming Halloween Dance, and sexualized appropriations of Native culture have been all too common in the past.

On October 6, 2014, the Seattle City Council voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. This measure was part of an ongoing effort towards what Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant called, “taking a stand against racism and discrimination.”

Although it is a step in the right direction that we do not celebrate Columbus Day, Andover should follow the example of the Seattle City Council, and use the second Monday of October as an opportunity to learn about the various cultures and histories of the indigenous population of the land we call America today and recognize “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Andover has taken noteworthy strides towards establishing a campus-wide awareness of and respect for the history and circumstances surrounding race, class, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and ability. Understanding the past and present realities of indigenous persons of America should not be an exception to these efforts.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXVII.