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Revisiting Columbus Day: Wonderment Does Not Equal Truth

On the eve of what most Americans celebrate as “Columbus Day” I found myself turning to the History Channel to watch “Who Really Discovered America?” I was instantly upset by the summations of world experts on how other cultures, civilizations if you will, came to settle or exist in North America. My husband, a Caucasian, said, “It’s so ridiculous how Europeans always try to prove they were there first.” I began to put things into perspective. I began to remember a time when I didn’t care where someone came from.

Around the age of 13, I was learning the hard way the differences of people. I lived just over the other side of the road of the reservation line and often would walk through the aisles of the Rolla, North Dakota Ben Franklin store with the elderly white ladies who worked there on my heels, watching for American Indian thievery. This sad story has been retold time and again in most writings of Metis and Ojibwe people who grew up on the Turtle Mountain Reservation along the Canada border in North Dakota.

As I listened to the ridiculous claims of the History Channel’s program on Sunday, I “harrumphed” my way through the “expert” analysis. First of all, I was always told that there is no medical way to tell the difference between races of people. Now, however, this show claims that DNA testing done on Cherokees may tie them to Irish descendents. I can’t believe this claim and find the invasion of a culture of people so amazingly disruptive of the balance of life—I have to continue watching it.

Another claim is that American Indians are tied to Chileans. This quote from undeniably makes the claim that "farther down the social ladder were a few African slaves and large numbers of native Americans."

The point is, why don’t they ask the American Indians themselves? I’m pretty sure I recall seeing, side by side, with American tribal news, in Indian Country Today and The Circle, articles that supported brother and sister aboriginal peoples from South America and New Zealand. Aboriginal people find no distinction between being oppressed in Australia and being oppressed in America for the crime of being an aboriginal descendent. I’ve had to fight for my rights like any other oppressed individual across the globe.

Who wouldn’t be proud of the fact that (as stated in the article) "the most famous advocate of human rights for the native Americans was a Jesuit, Luis de Valdivia, who struggled, mostly in vain, to improve their lot in the period 1593-1619"? Just as we aboriginal North American people believe that Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Louis Riel are heroes, we believe the claims of the aboriginals of their own history.

It would be insane to question whether the Caucasian Founding Fathers actually included Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, wouldn’t it? I find it hard, therefore, for scientists, anthropologists and others who seek to question the claims of the cultural people themselves in the interest of creating curiosity. The History Channel is not one of my favorite channels on cable television—I prefer Investigative Discovery and Food Network—but I respect the freedom we have to think and discover. I just don’t agree that it should discredit the historical truths that the aboriginal people of a country pass down from generation to generation.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that oral history can be used in cases of American Indian law. This oral history is validated in the same system that originated in England—the U.S. Judicial System—and is known as law and order in today’s America. If that system can find that original law prevails here using an Anglo Saxon summation, then that is good enough as truth. After all—isn’t finding the truth the same deeply rooted philosophical thought that is the basis for the judiciary review? It goes back as far as Plato and Socrates, in fact.

I tend to believe that those who know best are those so closely related to the outcome of a situation, and in this case, we Americans believe that truth is truth until it is proven wrong. The History Channel creates a lot of wonderment, but very little foundation of truth to anything but the fact that aboriginal people of America deserve to tell their own creations stories.

Monique Vondall-Rieke is a tribal attorney in North and South Dakota and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.