Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

President Donald Trump has signed two history-related proclamations, National Native American Heritage Month and National American History Founders Month. He created the latter for the first time last year.

The 2019 and 2020 National Native American Heritage Month proclamations are similar, both celebrating the contributions of Native Americans to the United States and touting the president’s commitment to Indian Country by listing legislation and funding he has supported that benefit Native people.

The National American History Founders Month 2020 proclamation, however, differs starkly from the inaugural proclamation in 2019. Trump signed the latest proclamations on Friday.

This year has been marked by increased momentum in the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police brutality aimed at people of color as well as calls for public reckoning with systemic racism that many claim permeates U.S. institutions and society.

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During civil unrest following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Confederate statues and monuments, as well as statues of Christopher Columbus and other historical figures with fraught history relating to Native Americans, have been torn down or removed from public places.

“A fringe element of radical politicians, media voices, corporate executives and other activists seek to use their immense power to obscure the ideals of our country, rewrite our Nation’s proud history and desecrate the memory of our founders,” the National American History Founders proclamation reads.

“Statues have been torn down and destroyed, violent mobs have masqueraded under the false banner of peaceful protests, and free speech has come under siege in the public square and online platforms.”

Trump goes on to describe adherents to critical race theory as seeking to strip individual agency from all Americans.

Critical race theory is a social sciences framework that examines society and culture as they relate to race, law and power.

President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during a news conference at the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, in Washington. (Photo by Evan Vucci, AP)

He also reiterates his signing of an executive order banning executive departments and agencies and federal contractors from teaching critical race theory.

According to some Native American advocates, Trump’s National American History Founders Month and Columbus Day proclamations have dangerous similarities.

“These proclamations are in line with his (the president’s) latest very overt push for White nationalists to stand by; it feels super inflammatory,” said Tara Houska, tribal attorney and founder of Ginew Collective, a frontline group working to protect Native territory from destructive fossil fuels in Minnesota. Houska is a citizen of Couchiching First Nation.

In his Oct. 9 Columbus Day Proclamation, Trump wrote: “Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy. These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions. Rather than learn from our history, this radical ideology and its adherents seek to revise it, deprive it of any splendor, and mark it as inherently sinister. We must not give in to these tactics or consent to such a bleak view of our history. We must teach future generations about our storied heritage, starting with the protection of monuments to our intrepid heroes like Columbus. This June, I signed an Executive Order to ensure that any person or group destroying or vandalizing a Federal monument, memorial, or statue is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

He goes on to reference his opposition to teaching critical race theory as stated in the National American History Founder’s Month Proclamation.

“In addition, last month I signed an Executive Order to root out the teaching of racially divisive concepts from the Federal workplace, many of which are grounded in the same type of revisionist history that is trying to erase Christopher Columbus from our national heritage. Together, we must safeguard our history and stop this new wave of iconoclasm by standing against those who spread hate and division.”

“It seems to me if the president was truly interested in honoring and respecting Indigenous peoples and sovereignty, then he wouldn’t push rhetoric that revises American history by painting Columbus as a hero; Columbus was a mass murderer of Indigenous peoples,” Houska said.

Tara Houska, founder of Ginew Collective. Photo courtesy of Tara Houska)

At a campaign rally last month in Muskegon, Michigan, Trump encouraged the crowd to boo the idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

“The radical left is eradicating our history,” he said during his speech.

Trump’s campaign leaders did not respond to emails from Indian Country Today seeking comment on his recent proclamations.

Several states and over 130 cities have dropped Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus Day, however, is still a federal holiday.

Houska said Americans are grappling with a conversation on race that needs to happen at a large-scale level.

“We are looking at things like the celebration of genocide, the celebration of slavery, and what that means to the fabric of America,” she said.

“Trump has found his niche by absolutely opposing that, but truth-telling that needs to happen so we can move forward together.”

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Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.

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