A hollow gesture

Dear President Biden,

It was so moving to read your proclamation designating October 11, 2021 as Indigenous People’s Day this afternoon – reading it brought tears to my eyes. But now I feel snookered. I thought at first that you were getting rid of Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day and that’s what got the tears going, but I see now that you’re playing it safe with a “both/and”, which actually pisses me off even more than had you said/done nothing to commemorate the trials and contributions of indigenous peoples. Seeing that you very carefully designated this one day in October 2021 that coincides with Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day while leaving Columbus Day in place as THE federal holiday ends up looking and feeling exceedingly performative and super yucky.

I strongly suggest you read James Loewen’s incredible book “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and carefully study the section on Columbus and the horrors he and his men wrought on the Americas – on purpose – and then consider issuing an EO that does right by indigenous people and gets rid of Columbus Day. If you’re worried that we need to keep Columbus front and center so that we don’t forget the devastation he and other Europeans brought to indigenous people, I think you could let that concern go. The people who have Columbus up on a pedestal aren’t likely to ever see him as anything other than a hero and the people who are aware of how messed up his moral compass was aren’t likely to forget him either. He will loom large whether he has a day named for him or not. If you’re worried that losing Columbus Day would lose you some votes, you might have a point, but it would still be the better, right thing to do.

I will confess that part of my dismay over all this is that I responded to the person who sent the proclamation link to a group of us with a fairly mushy, “isn’t this great” message to everyone because I hadn’t realized how incredibly limited in scope your proclamation really is. Basically, I get to top off my frustration with you with a hefty dose of frustration and embarrassment with and for myself – not the end of the world, but still unpleasant (and please see Loewen’s LMTTM Chapter 2 for his case that Columbus did not discover that the world is round when he sailed to the Americas, that this fact was accepted well before 1492).

This emotional blip of mine will pass, but the impacts of your hollow gesture are likely to stick around for quite some time. I can only hope that you have people around you who will give you honest feedback and that you will listen to them.

In case I was missing something instrumental that you’ve done for indigenous people, I just did a Google search asking the question “what has Biden done for Native Americans” and it came up mighty thin. There’s some old campaign stuff with a bunch of frothy promises and a piece about Deb Haaland becoming Secretary of the Interior (which really is a big deal so I don’t want to diminish the importance of this choice), but that’s it. With this track record (at least thus far), putting out a nicely worded proclamation that provides nothing substantive is not helpful so please turn this around by stepping up in true solidarity with indigenous people in real, substantive ways.

May we all be safe, including those of us whose families have been here close to forever.
May we all be willing to call out hollow gestures.
May we all have the strength to face the truths of our history.
May we accept that our collective unwillingness to face these truths is poisoning US.

Tracy Simpson

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