Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Columbus Day is Over

Across the U.S., many marked yesterday's national holiday with parades; some workers got the day off (at least some of those who haven’t already been laid off in this recession); and the banks took a break from the business of profiting from interest rates, fees and foreclosures. Among many of my facebook friends though, this day was mocked with sarcastic e-cards (below), and criticized with links to youtube videos asking us to “Reconsider Columbus Day.”

I also lament the legacy of colonization and enslavement brought about by Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic and am part of the 27% of Americans who think we shouldn’t be devoting a holiday to him. However, the analogy of “walking into someone’s house and telling them we live there now” lazily reinforces the anti-commons views that led to the bloody history begun by Columbus.

Equating the lands held in common by Native American tribes with a private home is a false equation and misrepresents many tribes’ commons approach to land. In fact, it was the commons-view of Native Americans that European conquerors saw as uncivilized because “there is no enterprise to make your home any better than that of your neighbors. There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization.”

I’m by no means defending or apologizing for the enclosure of land that had been shared and held in common by Native Americans. But interpreting that horrific history only through our current framework of theft and ownership fails to honor the wisdom of traditional, commons-based patterns of native land tenure.

Note: to read more on the history of how the U.S. government dismantled the Native American communal approach to land, read two articles that Lewis Hyde wrote for On the Commons here and here.

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