“Take Down Monuments to Native American Oppression” states the opinion essay by Julian Brave NoiseCat (Secwepemc/St’at’imc) in the High Country Journal. The author argues that once Lee, Jackson, Forrest and other statues are gone, streets re-named, schools re-named, and the human face and valor of those who fought for the Confederacy or who owned slaves have all been eradicated, it is time for Columbus, Father Serra,* Juan Oñate, and others to vanish as well, lest any honor be given to the perpetrators of genocide, slavery, and racism.
From the linked essay: “And there are other monuments across the United States that similarly celebrate a history of oppression and dispossession—not to mention countless cities, counties, schools and parks that also derive names from ruthless colonists, frontiersman, politicians and military idols.
The language of “discovery,” “expansion” and “manifest destiny” that Americans use to describe this history obscures the bloody massacres that this continent-sized theft entailed. Monuments to Columbus, Serra, Custer and Oñate represent and celebrate this theft and genocide.
Monuments are the products of societal decisions, often driven by public subsidy and private wealth, about which historical moments and figures universities, churches, cities, states or nations choose to enshrine for posterity. Because they are built almost exclusively by victors and elites, statues, monuments and memorials often signify and re-inscribe hierarchy and hegemony.”
The process already started in Canada this past weekend: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/cornwallis-statue-halifax-protest-removal-1.4206909?cmp=rss
I do not know enough history of Canada to know if the First Nations’ peoples there rewarded their own warriors for bringing in scalps or other parts of enemies and/or strangers, as Governor Cornwallis did. If so, then the only proper thing to do is to remove any monument or sign that might appear to honor or commemorate those various tribal groups.
So, in the spirit of the linked essay, to start in chronological order, we need to re-name: Columbus, OH, the Columbia River, Colombia (the nation) Columbia the college, British Columbia, ten other US cities and towns, four counties, and a few parks and monuments. Coronado National Monument will be removed, the Dominguez-Escalante monument and trail must go, followed by anything about Fr. Serra and Governor Oñate. Razing the Spanish missions in California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico would probably also be appropriate, unless the local people of Native American and Spanish descent can find an appropriate compromise. We’ll also need to erase traces of French mission work, because that was an attempt at cultural genocide in the guise of conversion, so De Smet, SD goes away, along with a host of other places.
Now, however, there may still be a few locals that were named by the above, so we’ll need to change all those, too, lest any trace of the memory of Columbus, Oñate, or others remain. The living Native Americans who happen to be Roman Catholic, and who might possibly honor the memory of the priests and brothers who brought Christianity and who staffed hospitals and schools should just keep quiet. They are suffering from the overwhelming European cultural hegemony that keeps them from realizing how terribly misguided their faith is.
But wait! What about those First Nations and Native Americans who were oppressed and almost destroyed by other Indians? Can any Karankawa demand that monuments honoring the Comanche be removed and renamed? What about the Lakota who suffered because Delaware warriors acted as guides for the US Cavalry? Should the descendants of the people chased out of their homes by the Apache, Navajo, and Hopi have a right to insist that anything associated with their ancient oppressors be removed? Or those whose ancestors were conquered by the Inca?
If you take it to that extreme, it dissolves into folly. Germans must stop honoring Charlemagne because he had 2,000 Saxons executed for their retaliation for his allowing their pagan shrines to be destroyed. The French and British should remove all statues and monuments to Roman leaders, because Rome conquered and colonized their people and wiped out a tribe or two (or so Roman sources claim).
Where does this lead? It leads to a swirling vortex of nasty recriminations and accusations of genocide and mass murder, of willing and pre-planned destruction of peoples. That Oñate would have done the same things to Europeans who refused to obey him or to Berbers/Moors, that the men of Plymouth Colony and some of the others decided that since the Indians would not settle down and become good Congregationalists they should be treated as if they were Irish (!), doesn’t matter. That at the same time, European Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox were beating-up on each other, chasing each other out of the region, and punishing those who would not “see the light of true faith” and switch to [flavor of Christianity] gets ignored.
What Oñate did to the people of Acoma was cruel. What the Spanish and Moors were doing to each other for the 700 years leading up to 1492 was also cruel. Slavery is wrong – much of the world agrees on this today. At least, much of the Western world. That debt peonage, chattel slavery, slave labor by political prisoners, and the like are still practiced all over the world is to be ignored, because it is not practiced by Europeans. Likewise pass by in silence the idea that archaeological evidence suggests that some Native Americans practiced forms of warfare that might well have destroyed entire small tribes.
So it started with the stars and bars, and Lee, Forrest, Stonewall Jackson, and the Confederate generals and monuments to Confederate soldiers who died defending their homes and what they felt was the proper form of government. Oh, and buildings and schools within colleges that were funded by or honored people who were slave owners, slave traders, or who oppressed the Indians. Next do we erase the courage and determination of Columbus, Coronado, Hudson,Balboa, De Soto, Champlain, Drake, Cook, all the other Spanish, French, and English explorers who opened up the New World and sent information and products back to Europe? We erase the “genocidal side” and shame the men of the past, but how far do we go?
It would be far better to teach the vital lesson that good men, well-meaning men, brave men and women, can be dreadfully wrong by our current standards and understanding. Charlemagne’s world is not the post-modern European Union. Neither was that of Cortez and De Soto. We need to be studying these men and women in order to remember that they did great things in terrible ways, they did what we today consider heinous things in the name of what they believe to be a great good, that they were not perfect and neither are we. Napoleon was a great man. A great and terrible man, because the wars he unleashed on Europe and his exporting the ideas of the French Revolution led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, people left homeless, and sowed the seeds for troubles that were and are still bearing fruit. So do we erase Napoleon from European history? Or do we learn from all his complexity?
Likewise Coronado, and Fr. Serra, and Fr. DeSmet, the Franciscans and Dominicans and Jesuits, the Methodists and Presbyterians and Baptists and Quakers who carried the Gospel and schools across North America? But studying all of a man or woman, looking at everything they accomplished in life, and looking at the worlds they came from and marched into requires time and understanding, and the admission that perhaps “genocide” was not intentional. That perhaps a man of Spain in the 1500s is not a man of Spain in the 2000s.
Easier to rename everything and erase the complications. All Native Americans, all African-Americans, all Irish, all Saxons, all Russians, all Poles, all Chinese, all Pakistanis and Indians, all native Britons and Gauls are victims forever and ever. All their woes stem from their conquerors. May the memories of the oppressors be damned, whoever they might be, their names erased and the altars to their family gods overturned and shattered.
*I do agree with the author about the statue used to illustrate the essay. That statue is very unattractive, in my opinion, and I think removing it would improve the aesthetics of the scene. But I’d think that if it were supposed to be a statue of St. Frances, or St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Paul, or Elvis.
Edited to add: Welcome, Instapunderati and Maggie’s Farm readers! Thank you for stopping by.
If you are interested in fiction about keeping and losing the past, please take a look at Elizabeth of Starland and the other Colplatschki novels.