Skip to main content
Updated:
Original:

1492 ? 2002: 510 Years of Native Resistance

Think back to a dozen years ago. The Little Bighorn National Monument still carried the name of Custer. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was not yet law. The National Museum of the American Indian was only ten months old.

Spain, Italy and all sorts of hyphenated Americas were ramping up celebrations for the Columbus Quincentenary. Replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria were being readied for hooplas in major ports of the Americas. Cristobal Colon (a.k.a., Columbus) seemed destined for sainthood.

Then Native Peoples rocked the boats.

The 1992 Alliance and The Elders Circle led the charge with a widely circulated statement in 1990, declaring 1992 as the "Year of the Indigenous Peoples" and urging everyone to mourn the more than 500 Native Nations that did not survive the invasion and to celebrate those who did. They called on:

?Churches and governments "to cease further aggressions against the Indigenous people and nations and to enter into a time of grace and healing by acknowledging their past actions and by atoning for them in symbolic and substantive ways."

?Teachers, historians and scientists "to tell the truth about our past and current situations and to allow the truth to guide their future actions."

?Entertainment, news, sports and advertising industries and other shapers of popular culture "to forego the use of dehumanizing, stereotyping, cartooning images and information regarding our peoples, and to recognize their responsibility for the emotional violence their fields have perpetuated against our children."

?All people "to end all cultural and economic discrimination against native peoples which has resulted in our current and continuing conditions of poverty."

Native peoples and friends deconstructed Columbus the hero and presented a true portrait of a mercenary of Spain who never learned his Genoan mother's language; who washed up on our shores by accident; who intentionally kidnapped and enslaved native people; and who personally chopped off native hands that did not bring him gold.

The campaign was so successful that myriad educators, writers, clergy and policy-makers re-thought Columbus and amplified native voices.

Most of the selected port cities closed their docks to the Quincentenary ships and many reservations and towns declared themselves to be "Columbus-free zones." The United Nations designated 1992 as the "Year of Indigenous People" and Bush 41 proclaimed it as the "Year of Reconciliation between Indians and Non-Indians."

The Quincentenary turned out to be a global educational platform that native peoples used to full advantage. By the time Oct. 12, 1992 rolled around, most Indians were sick of talking about Columbus.

One post-Columbus group ? 100 native artists, writers and wisdom-keepers ? gathered at Taos Pueblo, Oct. 14-18, 1992 to envision the next 500 years. The collective statement issued by the group is as fresh and pertinent today as it was ten years ago.

It declares: "Indigenous peoples will be here, protecting and living with Mother Earth in our own lands. We see a future of coming generations of Native people who are healthy in body and spirit, who speak Native languages daily and who are supported by traditional extended families. We look forward to leadership that encourages the religious and cultural manifestations of our traditions?. Our cultural renewal will assure the perpetuation of natural species that are dying, and perhaps even some of those thought to be extinct."

In the "Statement of Vision Toward the Next 500 Years," the group in Taos demanded:

?The immediate halt of the abuse, neglect and destruction of life and immediate strategies and compacts to halt the genocide of native peoples throughout the western hemisphere.

?An end to all exploitation, desecration and commercialization of Indian spirituality and cultures, our sacred places and the remains of our ancestors.

?An end to the violations of our right of worship, to the disrespect of our religious and cultural property and to the disregard of our very humanity.

?The world community to honor and enforce treaties that recognize tribal property and sovereignty ? the inherent right of Indian nations to govern all actions within their own countries based upon traditional systems and laws that arise from the people themselves and the right of Native nations to freely live and develop socially, economically, culturally, spiritually and politically.

?The right to secure borders and fulfilled treaties for which we gave up vast territory and wealth and the secure and adequate land base and respect for sovereignty that are prerequisites for viable tribal economies.

?The right to educational and social systems that affirm tribal cultures and values; that promote physical, spiritual and mental well-being of people; and that teach the care and healing of Mother Earth and all her children.

?The collective statement concludes with: "All life is dependent upon moral and ethical laws which protect earth, water, animals, plants and tribal traditions and ceremonies. Humanity has the responsibility to live in accordance with natural laws, in order to perpetuate all living beings for the good of all Creation.

"We share a bond with all the world's peoples who understand their relationship and responsibility to all aspects of the Creation. The first of these is to walk through life in respectful and loving ways, caring for all life. We look forward to a future of global friendship and the integrity of diverse cultures."

Five months after the gathering in Taos, in March of 1993, I was at a pow-wow in Denver that is known for its sales stands of beautiful jewelry, clothing, musical instruments and artwork. There, among the thousands of eye-catchers, was a small patch depicting the Columbus ships with the universal sign for "No" across them.

I assumed the patch was leftover anti-Quincentenary inventory until I read the words that encircled the image: "1492 ? 1993: 501 Years of Resistance." There it was ? the eloquence of persistence and constancy. Not just 500 years, but 501 years of resistance.

In that spirit, I urge you onward, Indian warriors, 1492 - 2002: 510 years of resistance, and counting.