It happened along 1495, only three years after the fateful 1492. This was early in the colony, just before the period of true horror that would engulf the Taino people and in time, would run over virtually every Indian nation in the Americas. This was at Hispanola, what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which was the first colony of Europe in the Americas. It was a moment when the two very different civilizations were still feeling each other out.
The old Taino cacique, or chief, Guarionex took a thousand of his people to the Columbus brothers. They all carried the traditional coa, or digging stick, and pouches of seeds and cuttings. The master cacique offered to the Columbus brothers that he and his people would be willing to plant a huge field of many staples and they would thus feed all of the "Castilla," as they called the early Spanish, even to send food back to Spain. What they could not easily endure was the payment of a gold tribute that the conquerors had immediately imposed. Columbus refused the offer of Guarionex. He wanted the gold. Brutal war and slavery would follow.
But Guarionex's generous offer, even that early in the conquest, was the essence of the ancient indigenous American, "Dream of the Land." The encounter marked the first time an American indigenous chief offered the shared bounties of the Earth as first covenant and as equalizer among peoples, as a way to peace. And it marked the first of many times, when it would be refused by the many conquerors that reached these American shores in the past 510 years. From the ransacking of Taino gold to the usurious international system of debt-collection that is energizing revolt from Mexico to Argentina, the attitudes of driving sectors in the Americas were fixed early. History has indeed and continues to repeat itself.
Today, as our brothers and sisters, our relatives to the South, are enduring growing starvation, and as the tribal nations of the North still struggle to retain land and jurisdiction, we ponder this first offer made to Columbus, how it was brutally rejected, how that disdain of the cultural gesture of sharing, based on the productivity of land, has created such horrible hardship for native peoples throughout the hemisphere. Driven from the land and forced away from self-sufficiency toward prescribed market crops in a globalized world, many Maya and Nahua and other coffee farmers are, this October 12, starving in Central America. In North America, respected Indian families such as the Yowells and the Danns (Western Shoshone) are turned away from their land at gunpoint, their lands usurped without truth or honor. The attitude of the conquistador is very much alive in 2002, five hundred and tens years and counting from that first encounter.
Columbus was the first disrupter. That is why we increasingly abhor the man and his enterprise. It is an opinion that can not be helped. Columbus ushered in a lot of destruction. Columbus himself, great mariner though he was, introduced slavery into the Americas. It was his banker's eye that sized up human beings and nature to add up sufficient gains to justify his investors' dreams. Nothing else got in the way. The rationale of the American Indian as slave, as "beasts that talk" took hold. It holds in the minds of many to this day.Columbus Day, celebrated last week, again culminated in controversy. It was occasion for many campus discussions, rallies and events. The controversial day and what it represents to Indian people will continue to arouse this kind of sentiment. It can not be helped. History repeats itself and we must all find our proper place in the defense of our ancient territories, our traditional values and lifeways.