Posts Tagged ‘Aborigines’ Protection Society’

Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

September 2, 2017

This clip from Telesur reports that Los Angeles has decided to drop Columbus Day from the holiday calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The clip states that the city was a centre of indigenous American culture when it was inhabitant by the Tongva tribe. The Tongva were, however, subjected to the Spanish mission system, in which they were forcibly attached to Roman Catholic missions in order to convert them to Christianity. This was part of the wave of dispossession, enslavement, forced conversion and genocide that overtook the indigenous peoples following Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1495.

I’m sure that city council’s decision to replace Columbus Day with a holiday celebrating the Amerindians will be criticized by the Republicans, and the Alt-Right and overt Nazis that have come out of the woodwork under Trump as another ‘loony left’ conspiracy to destroy America and White culture. I can just hear right-wing blowhards and ignorami like Rush Limbaugh even now spouting it over the airwaves, from political platforms and on the Net. But Columbus and his legacy have been immensely controversial for a long time.

Over 20 years ago, back in 1995 there was a storm of controversy surrounding the 500 anniversary of his discovery of America. Indigenous Americans argued that the celebration of his voyage amounted to celebrating their genocide at the hands of the conquistadors and the other European colonisers that followed. From what I remember, the Italian-American community got extremely upset at these remarks, as Columbus was Italian and therefore a great hero to them.

But the American First Nations have history on their side. Columbus’ discovery of the New World – actually the West Indies. He believed he’d actually gone all the way around the world and landed in Asia, and only dimly became aware that the place on which he’d landed might be an entirely new continent at the end of his life. It’s been estimated that the West Indies had a population of 3 million before Columbus’ arrival. The peoples of theses islands included the Arawaks, Caribs – from whom the word ‘cannibal’ is derived, because they were believed to eat people – and the Taino. The rock art produced by these ancient cultures still survives, and has been studied by archaeologists.

These people were then enslaved and decimated as the New World was claimed by the Spanish. They were forcibly converted to Christianity. Those that weren’t were executed. A year after Columbus’ arrival, most of the indigenous chiefs or caciques, who had welcomed him on his arrival, had been burned to death for their continued adherence to their traditional religious beliefs. Those that survived this, were enslaved and worked to death mining and producing gold for the Spanish. Those who tried to resist, or simply didn’t work hard enough, were tortured and mutilated in horrific ways. There are descriptions of Indians having their hands cut off and hung round their necks as a punishment, for example.

The Spanish mission system is also immensely controversial for the very same reasons. There’s been a long campaign by indigenous Californians against the conservation of the mission complexes as part of the state’s culture, because of the suffering they inflicted on the peoples forced into their care. Peoples like the Tongva were enslaved, their members isolated from each other, subjected to a system of cruel punishments. Many of them died from disease and hunger.

We British were also a part of this system of genocide and enslavement. The British popularized the Spanish persecution and extermination of the Caribbean peoples as part of a propaganda campaign to create hostility against them. The Spanish were resented as the Roman Catholic superpower that had threatened Protestant England, and the other Protestant European states. European Protestants drew parallels between their persecution of Amerindians their persecution of Protestants. This created the ‘Black Legend’ of the Spanish in America. However, when we expanded in the West Indies, we also persecuted and sought to exterminate and clear the islands we claimed of the remaining Caribs. Quite apart from the wars and genocide committed by us on the North American continent itself.

However, enslavement and genocide is not the whole of the history of the relationship between Christianity and indigenous people in America. In the 19th century many of the Protestant missionaries working amongst the American First Nations were staunch supporters of indigenous rights, and were profoundly concerned about the threat to them from White settlement. They were in contact, and often close friends, with British missionaries, who had worked with indigenous Australians and Polynesians, who were also members of the British Anti-Slavery Society. These missionaries, American and British, strongly believed that, while Native Americans would benefit immensely from conversion to Christianity, they also needed proper legal protection, and should be left firmly in possession of their ancestral lands. These missionaries formed the Aborigines’ Protection Society in order to defend the indigenous peoples of the British empire from exploitation and dispossession. Several of the 19th century missionaries were also firm in their view that Christianity should not be forced on to indigenous peoples in European cultural forms, but that it should be adapted to their culture. They thus looked forward to these nations developing their own distinctive Christian culture, and so contributing to Christianity as a world religion composed of many different and distinctive peoples and cultures.

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