Dueling proclamations from Donald Trump

Minnesota State Troopers surrounded a Christopher Columbus statue of after it was toppled in front of the Minnesota State Capitol on June 10 in St. Paul. The statue was later towed away. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via AP, File)

Mary Annette Pember

The president’s history proclamations sound like dangerous calls to action, Native advocates say

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

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)
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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Comments (2)
No. 1-2

The "history" that moron promotes is nothing more than indoctrination of the fantastical & promotes the 2 most detrimental lies for the U.S.- "American Exceptionalism" & "The American Dream." Both of these are extremely harmful lie that can cause even deeper trauma for those trying to overcome poverty & create a
future closer to the lives of our parents & grandparents which became all, but impossible post-Reagan era because the trickle down economic policies they implemented created a permanent system of austerity & skyrocketing income inequality. Republican orthodoxy for the past 40 years has been fiercely opposed to taxation & regulation. That's been the motivation that's created the insanity of our current tax system which puts the burden of funding our giant yearly budget on the backs of the poor & working class thus rewarding the top .1% (illustrated by the fact that the top 19 richest multinational corporations based in America paid NOTHING in taxes last year. Until our system changes, as much as we've all been brainwashed into thinking that raising taxes on anyone for anything is bad government, we'll continue to forgo the nominal stability of each successive generation & create an ever-widening gap between the haves & the have-nots.
With our reality as bleak as it is, I can't understand why more people aren't "radical extremists!" We should cherish them for daring to believe we deserve better & change for the better is possible if you're willing to fight for it!


"In fascist ideology, the goal of general education in the schools and universities is to instill pride in the mythic past; fascist education extols academic disciplines that reinforce hierarchal norms and national tradition. For the fascist, schools and universities are there to indoctrinate national or racial pride, conveying for example (where nationalism is racialized) the glorious achievements of the dominant race."

"…in antidemocratic systems, the function of education is to produce obedient citizens structurally obliged to enter the workforce without bargaining power, and ideologically trained to think that the dominant group represents history’s greatest civilizational forces."

"In fascist ideology, the products of intellectual life that it supports—culture, civilization, and art—are solely productions of members of the chosen nation."

"When Viktor Orbán assumed power [in Hungary], he condemned the schools as sites for liberal indoctrination. He nationalized the school system, which was previously under local school board control, and introduced a professional organization that all teachers had to join, which bound them to serve “in the interests of the nation.” A new national core curriculum recommended the work of anti-Semitic Hungarian writers. Schools were told to encourage activities evocative of a glorious mythic Hungarian national past, such as horseback riding and the singing of Hungarian folk songs."

"Once universities and experts have been delegitimized, fascist politicians are free to create their own realities, shaped by their own individual will."

-How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley