Hallett: Columbus Day revisited
October 13, 2014
As Columbus Day approaches, its is interesting to think about what we learned in school about the holiday and how the perception has changed for me as time has passed. Growing up Portuguese on Cape Cod, sailing was a big deal and I remember the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria story, thinking how exciting it would be to set sail across the wide expanse of ocean in search of new territory as an explorer. There were also historical landmarks and names such as Waquoit, Wianno and Cotuit, that indicated we were not the first ones to settle in this beautiful place. For me there was a double mystery of Columbus and what he was really doing and how the Wampanoag Indians felt about new immigrants (pilgrims). According to Columbus' journals, he mentions gold 180 times during the first voyage. He also states many Indians shared anything that was asked and remarked that they were naïve. According to the late historian Howard Zinn, the time of Columbus was a time of mass killings, an era marked by colonization and dispossession in native homelands conducted by the settlers. According to Martin Espada, as Columbus was governor of Espanola in 1495, he required indigenous people to bring him quotas of gold or have their hands cut off. A great feature film called "Even the Rain" does a good job of explaining Columbus' actions while an undercurrent story unwinds itself. Why is it that we accept the teaching of history from diplomats and leaders but bury the atrocities?
Yes, there have been benefits to the development of foreign lands; much of our modern lifestyle is possible due to resources acquired in this story of domination, power, money and oppression. But, it seems clear that more harm than good has been done by looking at the devastation to the natural world and the lives of indigenous peoples. There are insidious impacts on this modern world as well. The excessive notion of a culture that "more is better" keeps us moving at unhealthy speeds to achieve success measured by money and power. People are obese, depressed, running on the hamster wheel, feeling unsatisfied at the end of the day. Just as the Earth is unable to sustain this trajectory, so too are we humans.
In her book, "Thrive," one of the world's most influential women, Arianna Huffington, makes a powerful argument for the way we view success. After a personal wake-up call she concludes that the drive for money and power are literally killing us and that a third metric for success, including our well-being, our ability to draw on our intuition and inner wisdom, our sense of wonder, and our capacity for compassion and giving is needed. This measurement is more rooted in the indigenous cultures Columbus met when he landed, than in the culture he came with.
Many people I know have had a personal wake-up call where we learn what is most essential. For me it was an illness that stopped me in my tracks for about two years. This was the stillness I needed to learn compassion for myself and others and accept my limitations. It gave me a new, improved view of why I chose to live in these amazing mountains in Colorado for all of my adult life.
With human and Earth health in jeopardy, it may serve us to question how we celebrate modern culture and consider honoring different values at this point in human history. Could we correct human and planetary courses by shifting our perception of what we honor?
Columbus Day holiday is observed in other parts of the world as El Dia de la Raza (Mexico and Latin America), which celebrates the mix of race after Columbus came. Or in Italy, where they have a huge parade in his honor and he isn't even Italian. And for some local U.S. governments, it is now Indigenous Peoples' Day, which honors the region's indigenous ancestors. Is this start of the wake up of humanity, celebrating the wisdom of the ancestors and their mutually-enhancing relationship with the Earth?
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Last month more than 400,000 people gathered in New York City alone for the largest climate march in history. It was a plea to return our support of the Earth and appreciate what she has given us all of these years, addressing climate change. With Columbus Day, it's time for a check on what's been learned — harmony for indigenous wisdom and our relationship with the Earth.
Nancy Hallett is a landscaper, chef, musician and yoga teacher. She volunteers with PachamamaAlliance.org
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