I am writing this on October 12, 2020. It is Indigenous People's Day. I used to call it Columbus Day. I noticed on Twitter that First Lady Melania Trump still does.
I am sitting on what used to be the land of the Susquehannock people. The Susquehannock spoke the Iroqouian language, and inhabited a large part of what is now the mid-Atlantic region. Their numbers were decimated by disease in the mid-1670s. I am afraid that if I write more before I understand their history better I will get it wrong, and I do not want to cause any offence. If you would like to know on whose land you live, visit native-lands.ca. You can type in your address and find who used to occupy your neighborhood.
14 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 cities now celebrate Indigenous People's Day instead of or in addition to Columbus Day (Hauck, 2020). Many statues of Christopher Columbus are being removed. (Mansoor, 2020)
This is important, because indigenous peoples contest the claim that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America. It is important because Christopher Columbus kidnapped and enslaved native people he encountered on his first voyage to what would come to be known as the Americas, and committed genocide on subsequent trips. Columbus was the first of the European explorers who would bring death and destruction to the native peoples and their societies in the Americas.
Yet, until recently, we have celebrated Christopher Columbus. I still remember the phrase, "In 14 hundred and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," from a song I learned in elementary school. One year, as a librarian, I had committed to teaching science through my library lessons. I taught the kids about the animals Columbus would have encountered on his journey, using Google Earth to show where the animals lived. Not a word about the native people that were slaughtered by Columbus. I have been able to name the three ships in Columbus' fleet, but not the Arawak or Taino people until recently.
How can this be? How can we still be so hardened to the cries of the descendants of the people who were already here? How can we still believe that America is great, when America lied to and murdered the native peoples because they were inconvenient? America needed land, needed oil, needed, needed, needed - and the native peoples had to go. Even now our thirst for gold endangers the natives of the Amazon basin.
This should break the hearts of every person who has a heart. But, the faith of our fathers says otherwise.
The Bible has been used to justify slavery, and racism, since - well, since the words were written down.
In Genesis 9, Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth come out of the ark and God establishes the covenant that never again will God send a flood to destroy the earth. Noah plants a vineyard, and once the vineyard produces, Noah drinks some of the wine and gets drunk. Ham goes in to Noah's tent and sees his father's nakedness, which is apparently a big no-no in ancient times. Rather than sneaking out and saying nothing, Ham goes to his brothers, who back into the tent, cover Noah, and then leave, keeping their faces turned away. When Noah wakes up and finds out what Ham has done to him (early example of not taking responsibilities for one's own actions), he curses Ham, the father of Canaan: "Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers." He also said, "Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. May God make space for Japheth , and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave." (Genesis 9:25-27, NRSV).
Europeans interpreted this to mean that Canaan was intended to be enslaved, that Canaan was racially inferior, and that Canaan was Africa. The Bible said so.
Slavery was not uncommon in ancient times, and apparently the Islamic people of the time had a vibrant slave trade going between Africa and the Middle East. It was the Europeans, however, who increased the Atlantic slave trade to work the land that they were increasingly taking from the native peoples in the Americas.
After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, God dictated his laws. One of them, Deuteronomy 24:7, creates some problems for Christian slave holders: If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you (NRSV). If Christians are to be held to the laws of God, then it follows that Christians must not enslave fellow believers. One way around this was to mandate that the slaves were not quite human, and to forbid teaching them to read. If they couldn't read, they couldn't study the Bible and be converted.
Of course, this has other problems regarding saving souls. But if black and brown people were considered less than human, their souls didn't need to be saved. And they weren't.
Back to Christopher Columbus. He and his men succeeded in wiping out the Arawak people living in what is now Haiti. The cruelty of his men is too much for me to record here. Columbus cared about gold and slaves, and the Arawak people cared about their lives.
Last June, during the outrage and protests over the George Floyd killing, the Christopher Columbus statue in St. Paul, MN was pulled down. In a tweet, Senator Ted Cruz labeled those who topped the statue the "American Taliban." This sparked a response from Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota who said the statue was pulled down by Indigenous protestors because, "Columbus literally started a genocide against them." Senator Cruz shot back, "No, he didn’t commit genocide, “literally” or otherwise. He did discover the New World, which led to colonizers, some of whom inadvertently brought disease. Is it your position that it’s inherently immoral to come to America from a foreign land?"
Why is it so impossible to admit our ancestors were wrong? That some (many?) of our American heroes were flawed? Why couldn't Vice President Pence, in the debate with VP candidate Kamala Harris on October 7 acknowledge that systemic racism exists? Why does President Trump's executive order 13950 prohibit training on unconscious or implicit bias?
Until we can acknowledge the sins of our fathers, we can't repent. Until we repent, we can't heal.
I know, you'll say that YOU didn't do anything! Neither did I (as far as slavery, at least. I am ashamed at the racist things I have said in the past.)
Generational trauma occurs when a parent or grandparent inadvertently passes on learned behaviors due to trauma. For example, and this is a stretch I admit, I saw many victims of car accidents and gunshots when I was a nurse in the surgical ICU. This contributed to my vigilance about wearing seatbelts, and my abhorrence of guns. That trickled down to my children, who know better than to get in a car without a seatbelt, and who also are opposed to the gun rights movement.
I once heard on a radio show - can't cite it because I can't remember it - that Sojourner Truth wrote that when her child cried because the child was hungry, she was frightened that the child might steal food from the table. This was a serious offense in Sojourner Truth's world, and she feared that the child would be severely punished or sold away. A slap from the child's mother was the preferable of the punishments, so the child learned not to complain about being hungry. What choice did Sojourner Truth have? That child learned the behavior and presumably passed it to her children, who passed it to her children, and so on.
More recent research says that physical manifestations of trauma can be passed through many generations. PTSD actually changes DNA, and that change is manifested for up to three generations (Martinez, 2017). So severe trauma that I experience will still affect the behavior of my grandson.
If generations of people suffered profound trauma, it makes sense that their behavior would still reflect that. And if the trauma is something so terrible and recurs over and over again, it makes sense that descendants of today would still be suffering the effects.
It is certain that black and brown people in the United States are suffering generational trauma. And that fresh traumas continue to be inflicted. Is it possible that white people are suffering generational trauma? I've heard it said that the Spanish Inquisition and serfdom was so traumatic that white people now feel the need to traumatize others.
Whether this is true or not, I don't know that we can talk or preach or legislate our way out of this. And if we don't acknowledge the sins of our past, we cannot pray for restoration of God's right and just world.
In honor of Indigenous People's Day, I ask that each of us as individuals and collectively as Americans name our sinful past. Americans have committed each of the seven deadly sins, which are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Pride that we think that we are special or chosen people of God, and entitled to the best of everything. Greed in our lust for land, power, wealth, oil.... Envy in that we are always searching for the greener grass, bluer sky, and better life. Lust - see "greed". Gluttony in that we are always wanting more and bigger and better. And sloth in that we are happy to allow someone else to suffer so that our wants and desires are met.
I am still proud of the work our founding fathers did, and glad that I am American. But from John Smith to George Washington, to Thomas Jefferson, to Abraham Lincoln, to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, and certainly Donald Trump, our heroes are flawed human beings. The America I love has perpetrated, and continues to perpetrate, unspeakable cruelty on those who are not of European descent. Until America recognizes her sins, she cannot repent. Until she repents, she cannot be forgiven, and until she is forgiven she cannot achieve the "greatness" that some think she has lost. She never had it.
Jeremiah 8:6 NIV 6 I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, “What have I done?” Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle.
Only God (or Allah, or YAWH, or the divine, or whatever other name for God one chooses), can heal us. It is time we come before God in humility and repentance and ask for God's help.
Castelloe, Molly S. PhD. "How Trauma is Carried Across Generations." Psychology Today. May 28, 2012. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-me-in-we/201205/how-trauma-is-carried-across-generations. Accessed October 12, 2020.
Cole, Brendan. "Ted Cruz Says Columbus Didn't Commit Genocide—historians Say He Did." Newsweek. June 12, 2020. https://www.newsweek.com/christopher-columbus-ted-cruz-ilhan-omar-genocide-statue-1510425. Accessed October 12, 2020
Cruz, Ted. @tedcruz. " American Taliban." Tweet, June 10, 2020, 9:24 PM.
Cruz, Ted. @tedcruz. "No, he didn’t commit genocide, “literally” or otherwise. He did discover the New World, which led to colonizers, some of whom inadvertently brought disease. Is it your position that it’s inherently immoral to come to America from a foreign land? I'm glad my dad came from Cuba." Tweet. June 11, 2020, 10:27 AM.
Editors, History.com. "Why Columbus Day Courts Controversy." History.com. Updated October 9, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/columbus-day-controversy. Accessed October 12, 2020.
Hauck, Grace. "Indigenous Peoples Day or Columbus Day? 14 states celebrate, honor Native American histories and cultures." USA Today. October 12, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/10/12/columbus-day-indigenous-peoples-day-facts-2020-holiday-trump/5952881002/. Accessed October 12, 2020.
Langlois, Jill. "Amazon Gold Mining Drives Malaria Surges Among Indigenous People." National Geographic. August 12, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/08/gold-mining-deforestation-amazon-drives-malaria-surges-brazil-indigenous-peoples/#close. Accessed October 12, 2020.
Martinez, Kristin. "The “Sins” of Our Fathers: How Trauma is Passed Down Through Generations." PaxTherapy. October 11, 2017. https://www.paxtherapy.com/generational-trauma/. Accessed October 12, 2020.
Mansoor, Sanya. "As Indigenous Peoples Day Becomes More Widely Celebrated, Christopher Columbus Statues Become Lightning Rods." Time. October 12, 2020. https://news.yahoo.com/indigenous-peoples-day-becomes-more-193359086.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuYmluZy5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAMEHrW_816o9lh-XKHjwef8BQ0y_i9g7QeUjYMHFh3UyqwJ4mS7rH0sfqxe4g6p2OtES13pyWpLSL5HRwer3LdOmYMe0PCtcQzsHkFxWEgWMT6PEM4hhg3Bw6faOj8XpMN6WuY7vcshlsNm3M7a0QeRadmxUA5LuGOMvlT5tFv_R. Accessed October 12, 2020
Omar, Ilhan. @ilhanMN. "This was organized and led by Indigenous people. Columbus literally started a genocide against them. What a sick thing to say about those taking down monuments to their own oppression." Tweet. June 11, 2020, 12:57 AM
"Seven Deadly Sins." Wikipedia. ed. October 1, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins. Accessed October 13, 2020