I can’t think of any place better to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day than at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston. I decided to pay a visit there. The Mitchell Museum is small but they change their exhibits often so you can always see something new when you go there. Right now they have an exhibit of pictures of prominent women who are among the First Americans. They ask, “Did you know that these women are Native Americans?” For the most part, I didn’t know so thanks Mitchell Museum for trying to upend another stereotype.
|the first Native American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court|
Evanston, Illinois joined the growing list of American cities and universities that have voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Most of the Evanston’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day events took place at The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. In addition to the exhibits, they had a panel of three Native Americans participating in a discussion about identity, connection to roots, and racial stereotyping. Later, a concert by Native American musicians was presented at Northwestern University. The concert featured the group Scattering the Bones, a family of self-educated musicians. They played their music with heart were a pleasure to watch.
|at the concert, Scattering the Bones group|
You’re probably asking yourself why we should replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. There are several reasons:
Since 1977 proposals to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day have been offered. Many people - especially the First Americans - have had issues about Columbus Day. For one, how can someone say he discovered a place that is already inhabited? There are various figures from studies for what the population of the Americas was just prior to 1492. The average number I saw was 54 million for North America and 37 million for South America.
Leif Erikson, a Norwegian explorer, “found” Canada in about 1003. One can argue that the indigenous peoples themselves discovered the Americas some 10,000 years ago [archaeological evidence is in dispute about the exact date] when they crossed the Land Bridge from Siberia into Alaska.
There are many myths about Columbus in American culture. Yes, he was the first European to settle down in what is now the United States of America. Was he a benefactor to the people he found there? According to historians, he was not and in fact committed genocide against the Native Americans living in Puerto Rico. Surely we can find a more appropriate person to create myths about.
I hope that next year Indigenous Peoples’ Day festivities in Evanston are better attended. All of us Americans should know more about Native American cultures and peoples. Over five million still live here. After all, they were here first.