Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Happy Indigenous Genocide Day

Since I've clearly aligned myself with the "Blame America First" faction of bloggers who just love to hate everything about our nation, I feel it is my solemn duty to commemorate Columbus Day Indigenous Genocide Day.

On 1492-08-03, Chris Columbus, not content with a future as a filmmaker, sailed the ocean blue in search of Indonesia and Japan. His men didn't believe that the earth was flat, but they weren't confident that sailing west from Spain to Indonesia would be as much of a holiday cruise as Chris told them it would be. No sweat, just a quick little three-hour tour.

On 1492-10-12, Columbus landed in the Caribbean instead of Indonesia, and didn't find a wealth of spices, but instead he found an abundant supply of fresh slaves just waiting to give their land to their new colonial overlords. Not counting brown-skinned heathens, the entire continent was uninhabited! Perfect!

In the centuries that followed, hundreds of entire tribes were wiped from the face of the earth by the combination of military action, newly introduced diseases, slavery, and forced migration. The indigenous population declined more than twentyfold. Other tribes survived in body, but not in spirit. The Pamunkey tribe, the first contact of the English settlers at Jamestown, Virginia, survives, but its language and many of its ancient traditions are gone forever. The Shoshone people survive, and their language still has a few thousand speakers, but their religious traditions came perilously close to dying out in the 20th century.

The original meaning of decimate was to kill 10% of a group, but the European settlers and their descendants left fewer than 10% of the Indians alive. That is nothing short of systematic genocide, ethnic cleansing on a continental scale. Indeed, the saga of the American Indian stands among the most brutally successful genocides in human history.

America is a great nation, built upon an incredible foundation of idealism. The concept that all people are created equal, with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with those rights not to be abridged without due process of law, is one of the most powerfully transformative ideas humanity has ever known. However, it is crucial that we as a nation never forget, never make light of nor sweep under the rug, the many times that we have fallen far short of those ideals.