As one of the more frequently contested holidays in America, Columbus Day sparked a barrage of commentary and analysis in the media this weekend, including The Huffington Post. While many working folks in America enjoyed a long weekend, bloggers, authors, teachers, and others from across fields and disciplines took a stance on the meaning and significance of the holiday, and why it should matter to people today.
Opinions ranged from why it's important to foster a "people's history" curriculum in schools, to why it's high time to "rethink our Manifest Destiny" in this era of rapid technological and economic advancement. The Atlantic ran an article on why Columbus Day is misunderstood as a "celebration of genocide" rather than a "commemoration of Columbus' landfall." However, nobody seemed to talk much about what those hardworking American folks who just returned from their three-day weekends can do for the very people who may have the most to say about the holiday: indigenous peoples.
Right now is the perfect time to think about those throughout history and across the world who, because of their regional, cultural, or ethnic ties, have been colonized, marginalized, displaced, or oppressed. Not only that, it's a great time to partner with or take action on behalf of those people.
The International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) says "indigenous peoples across six continents form the largest minority in the world, with more than 370 million people in more than ninety countries. In nearly every location, including in the United States, they are also among the most impoverished and underrepresented." Meanwhile, the lack of foundation-based funding and support that go to indigenous causes is dire -- in 2008, only .002 percent of grant money offered by U.S. foundations went toward indigenous issues.
But foundations, though important, are not the only agents of positive change. Everyday people can also make a difference for indigenous people across the globe. In my opinion, Columbus Day can serve not only as an annual evaluation of American history, treatment of ethnic minorities, and international relations, but also as a time of year to contribute to people who are fighting for their homeland. Columbus may have lived 500 years ago, but his legacy of colonialism continues today. Here are some things you can do:
Amazon Watch suggests ways to help indigenous peoples in the Amazon fight displacement by illegal development on their ancestral lands.
Support the safeguarding of Native American languages at Our Mother Tongues.
Help the Vanishing Cultures Project document the ancient customs of indigenous peoples around the world for future generations.