EDITOR’S NOTE: The following text was abridged from an editorial first published on RealClearPolitics.com.
Today’s protestors — with great vigor but little historical sense — seem eager to look for scapegoats. They want to cast all blame for the atrocities committed against American Indians at the feet of Christopher Columbus. Such efforts only serve to whitewash and revise the true history of the Americas.
We need to remember our history, the good and the bad, so that we are not set up to repeat history’s mistakes. We need to take an honest look at all our forefathers. We need to give them the credit they deserve for what they did well, while being mindful of the things that they should have done differently or better.
What we lose in the rush to scapegoat Columbus is perspective on how America came to the present moment in its troubled relations with Native Americans. Spain outlawed almost all enslavement of Indigenous people by 1500. Yet, 200 years later, enslavement of American Indians thrived in British Connecticut. In 1850, Peter Hardeman Burnett, the Gold Rush governor of California, summed up the Anglo-American perspective when he said, “It is inevitable that the Indian must go.” By contrast, Columbus and the Spanish sought coexistence, however complicated that sometimes became.
Columbus Day is a day for us to remember that bold and courageous voyage in 1492 that led to the first sustained contact between two very different worlds. It is a day to remember the many good things that have come out of that contact, such as the founding of the United States, the first lasting democratic republic.
It is also a day to remember our failings as a country, such as the Trail of Tears and the forced removal and re-education of native children in the 20th century — episodes that occurred centuries after Columbus and that the explorer neither caused nor condoned.
Each day, I see the continued hardships facing the first people of the Americas. I see the poverty, the lack of quality education options, and the constant interference in Native American tribes’ right to selfdetermination.
Instead of vandalizing statues or spreading misleading history, I would call on all Americans to follow the example of groups like the Knights of Columbus, and reach out to these communities or to those on the peripheries in your own neighborhood. Bring companionship to your lonely elderly neighbor. Form friendships with those who are suffering.
Rather than dubiously assigning blame to one man, together we can truly help make the United States a better place for all of us, and achieve a harmony and understanding between native and immigrant peoples that has too often eluded us in our history.
PATRICK T. MASON, a member of the Osage Nation and past state deputy of New Mexico, serves on the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors.
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