A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Nebraska has proposed a bill that will replace Columbus Day with a government holiday called ‘Chief Standing Bear and Indigenous Leaders Day.’ The holiday will particularly honor Standing Bear, the Ponca Chief who saved his people from deportation in 1879, but also recognizes the leaders of all four Native American tribes from Nebraska area.
State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks says that “Truly, Standing Bear is our Martin Luther King.” The move has generated some controversy, but it is a step in the right direction towards reconciling America with its past exploitation and destruction of indigenous peoples – America’s first peoples.
Standing Bear courageously took his defense of his people’s rights to remain on their lands into an Omaha courtroom in 1879. His bold stand resulted in the landmark court decision that recognized Native Americans as people under the law for the first time.
Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who sailed across the Atlantic funded by the Spanish monarchy is not directly linked to the United States. However, his actions set a dark precedent for European exploration of the ‘New World.’ Columbus first landed on the island of Hispaniola, where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are now. He encountered the Taíno people, who he used to found the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Within one hundred years of Columbus’s landing on Hispaniola, the Taíno were extinct. It can only be described as a genocide.
Columbus established the tradition of enslavement in the Americas that persisted long after slavery was abolished in Europe. Columbus established the practice of enslaving, deporting, or eliminating indigenous peoples whenever they stood in the way of Europeans. That practice persisted in America, most infamously with the Trail of Tears. Even today Native American communities tend to be impoverished, and revival of traditional practices is slow after hundreds of years of government efforts to destroy their cultures.
Standing Bear is one of the great Civil Rights heroes of Native Americans, forcing the government to acknowledge their status as human beings. Rather than celebrate the founder a lucrative slave trade and initiator of genocide, we should celebrate Native American heroes. Native American communities have been marginalized throughout history, and it is time to give their eminent figures the honor they deserve. We have already waited far too long.
Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.