Berekely's Indigenous Peoples Day (information)


Berkeley replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992. The inaugural year was filled with ceremonies, and each year since then the city has celebrated with a free pow wow, organized by local Native and non-Indigenous residents. Held in Civic Center Park, the Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow and Indian Market has become an important annual event, where the local population can interact with and learn about Native culture and the Bay Area Indian community.

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native nations to the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, held in Geneva, which passed that resolution. 

In July 1990, representatives from 120 Indian nations from every part of the Americas met in Quito, Ecuador in the First Continental Conference (Encuentro) on 500 Years of Indian Resistance. The conference was also attended by many human rights, peace, social justice, and environmental organizations. This was in preparation for the 500th anniversary of Native resistance to the European invasion of the Americas, 1492-1992. The Encuentro saw itself as fulfilling a prophesy that the Native nations would rise again “when the eagle of the north joined with the condor of the south.” At the suggestion of the Indigenous spiritual elders, the conference unanimously passed a resolution to transform Columbus Day, 1992, "into an occasion to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation." Upon return, all the conference participants agreed to organize in their communities. While the U.S. and other governments were apparently trying to make it into a celebration of colonialism, Native peoples wanted to use the occasion to reveal the historical truths about the invasion and the consequent genocide and environmental destruction, to organize against its continuation today, and to celebrate Indigenous resistance.

A representative of Berkeley’s mayor attended the Encuentro, to gather information as to how the city should commemorate the Quincentenary. The U. S. Congress had chosen the Bay Area as the national focus for the planned “Quincentenary Jubilee” hoopla, with replicas of Columbus' ships scheduled to sail into the Golden Gate and land in a grand climax (eventually canceled). 

In the fall of 1990, a well-attended conference of Northern California Indians met at D-Q University in Davis, California, and organized the Bay Area Indian Alliance for counter-quincentennial planning. They resolved to "reaffirm October 12, 1992 as International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples." The final day of the conference was moved to Laney College in Oakland and opened to non-Native people. This conference organized Resistance 500, a broad coalition to coordinate 1992 activities with Indigenous leadership. The Resistance 500 coalition broke down into four committees revolving around different municipalities, planning local activities in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and the South Bay.   

At the request of the Berkeley committee of Resistance 500, the Berkeley City Council set up a task force to make recommendations regarding Quincentenary planning.  The Berkeley Resistence 500 Task Force investigated the historical record, and concluded that Columbus’s expedition was not a scientific “voyage of discovery,” but a scouting mission for a scheme of imperialism and conquest.

Columbus openly stated that he planned to conquer and colonize the lands he “discovered”: first the Caribbean islands and then mainland America. On his second voyage he brought the Spanish army with him, and proceded to do just that. The islands were populated by over a million Taino Indians, peaceful farmers and fishermen. Unable to find enough gold there to finance his schemes, Columbus captured thousands of Tainos and shipped them to the slave markets of Spain. The Tainos resisted with fishbone-tipped spears, but those were no match for artillery. Columbus demanded that each Taino pay a tribute of gold dust every three months, under penalty of amputation of the hands. In two years over a hundred thousand Tainos were dead, and the survivors were slaves, mostly in mines and plantations. Columbus personally invented European imperialism in the Americas and the transatlantic slave trade. He took personal leadership in acts that would today be called genocide.

Berkeley Resistence 500 reported those historical facts to the city council, and that Native peoples around the world had proposed replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The task force recommended that Columbus should no longer be honored, but the city should instead commemorate the contributions of Native people and their resistance to the European invasion. With strong support from the community, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously that October 12th was henceforth to be Indigenous Peoples Day, to be commemorated annually on the nearest Saturday.

In subsequent years the municipality of Santa Cruz also began celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day. The State of South Dakota replaced Columbus Day with Native American Day. October 12 is now celebrated in Venezuela as the Day of Indigenous Resistance, ‘Día de la Resistencia Indígena’. The United Nations, at the request of Indigenous groups and led by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, declared International Indigenous Peoples Day. But instead of changing Columbus Day, as requested, the U.N. sidestepped the issue of Columbus by naming August 9th as International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. Phoenix now celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day on March 12, relating to the Aztec calendar. However, in keeping with the original request of the Indigenous spiritual elders at the Continental Conference (Encuentro) on 500 Years of Indian Resistance, Berkeley has retained October 12 as Indigenous Peoples Day.

We invite you to come this year to the Berkeley Indigenous Peoples Day pow-wow, make or renew our friendship, enjoy Native American foods and crafts, share a wonderful and powerful experience. Ride the lifestream of the pow-wow highway with us, as Indigenous culture spreads its spiritual roots and breaks through into the mainstream of the multicultural society that is appearing before our eyes today here on Turtle Island.   

The Indigenous Peoples Committee works for social justice and human rights for Native Peoples. We promote the necessity of Indigenous wisdom for human survival in balance with the environment. We organize educational and cultural events publicizing Native struggles, including Indigenous Peoples Day Powwow and Indian Market annually on the Saturday nearest October 12th. 

Yurok Tribe Jumpdance (culture)

The Yurok Tribe is California’s largest Indian Tribe with nearly 5,000 enrolled members. The Yurok Tribe’s Territory consists of all Ancestral Lands, specifically including, but not limited to, the Yurok Reservation’s lands, which currently extend from one mile on each side from the mouth of the Klamath River and upriver for a distance of 44 miles. The Yurok Tribe’s people are also known historically as the Pohlik-la, Ner-er-er, Petch-ik-lah and Klamath River Indians. For millennia traditional Yurok religion and sovereignty was pervasive and practiced throughout all our historic villages along the Pacific Coast and inland on the Klamath River. The Yurok people carried on extensive trade and social relations through this region and beyond. Yurok commerce traditionally included a monetary system based on the use of dentalium shells, Terk-n-term and other items as currency. The Yurok traditional ceremonies include the Deerskin Dance, Doctor Dance, Jump Dance, Brush Dance, Kick Dance, Flower Dance, Boat Dance, and others, that have drawn Yurok people and neighboring Tribes together for renewal, healing and prayer. This whole land, this Yurok country, stayed in balance and was kept that way by our good stewardship, hard work, wise laws and constant prayers to the Creator.

The Karuk Jumpdance (culture)







The Los Angeles Times, July 12, 1996, Friday, Home Edition

SOMES BAR, Calif.  Not far from the place they call the center of the world,

nine Karuk men in deerskin skirts and feathered woodpecker-scalp headdresses

perform the sacred Jump Dance, reviving a ritual lost for nearly a century.

   Waving ornamental baskets in the air, they stomp their feet and chant in

unison on a hill above the Klamath River, the spot where their ancestors staged

the religious ceremony for thousands of years.

   "This is a war dance against evil," a medicine man solemnly tells 50 tribe

members who stand barefoot, watching in silence. "How to live is within this


   For the Karuks, who once were numerous enough to populate a 40-mile stretch

of the Klamath near the Oregon border, the resurrection of the Jump Dance

symbolizes their renewal as a people.

   Up until the late 1970s, the Karuks had little land and few resources.

Scattered throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon, their language and

customs were on the verge of disappearing.

   Sparked by a tribal reorganization in 1990, the Karuks have embarked on a

wide-ranging effort to rebuild their tribe, bringing back ancient customs,

reviving their language and establishing enterprises that create jobs for their


   They also have begun to reacquire ancestral lands lost long ago--including

one sacred parcel that authorities recently seized from an alleged marijuana


   Karuk tribal planner Crow Munk puts it simply: "This is the rebirth of a


   The Karuks have made more progress than most of the states' tribes, but in

many ways their struggle for survival typifies the story of California's

indigenous people. Throughout the state, Native Americans are returning to their

ancestral lands to rebuild their tribes and reestablish their languages,

religions and traditions.

   "Tribes are experiencing a cultural reawakening," said Mike Smith, deputy

director of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in California. "They are into a

renaissance, going back and using the elders to revive languages and cultural


   Casinos on Native American land--which became legal in 1988--have helped fund

the cultural revival. Twenty-nine of the state's 100 officially recognized

tribes run them and are able to finance tribal activities with the proceeds. A

few tribes are doing so well they even have been able to assist the larger

community. One tribe donated $ 100,000 to the struggling Sacramento Symphony

this year.

   But the Karuks, located in the Klamath Mountains far from any major

population center, have rejected the idea of a casino. Instead, they rely on

economic development programs that include constructing houses for tribe

members, operating health centers, opening a building supply store and

fashioning furniture from hardwoods gathered in the forests.

   "We talked about a casino, but we don't like a vast money scheme," said Karuk

tribal chairman Alvis Johnson, a former Bay Area ironworker and welder. "We need

more viable businesses."

   Johnson, an unassuming 57-year-old, said he returned to his homeland a decade

ago with no specific purpose. He ended up running for chairman at the urging of


   Under his leadership, the Karuk government began hiring outsiders with

management expertise as well as local tribal members, expanding from a staff of

three to about 80 employees.

   "We have hired some outstanding people to help make it work," Johnson said.

"A lot of tribal members who have been out in the world are coming back . . .

it's moving almost too fast."

   Like other tribes, one of the Karuks' first struggles was to gain federal

recognition--and the government funding that comes with it. The tribe succeeded

in 1979. Because of its strong leadership, it was officially designated as

self-governing in 1994. One of four tribes in the state with that status, the

Karuks can spend the annual lump sum of more than $ 6 million they receive from

the United States largely as they see fit.

   The tribe estimates that there are 5,000 people of Karuk ancestry, nearly

3,000 of them officially enrolled in the tribe. Only a dozen fluent speakers of

the Karuk language remain, most of them older. The tribe has started language

classes for young people, including a language-immersion Head Start program.

   The Karuks also have begun working with the National Forest Service to help

manage public forests using traditional Native American methods--such as

prescribed burns--practiced by their ancestors for thousands of years.

   "The scientists are finding out what the Indians knew for many years," said

Sonia Tamez, the Forest Service's tribal relations program manager.

   California, despite its image as a progressive state, has one of the worst

records of mistreatment of Native Americans, historians say.

   Before Europeans arrived in North America, the area that makes up modern

California had the largest population and the greatest diversity among its

people--just as it does today. Experts estimate that more than 300,000

indigenous people lived here--about a third of the native population of what

would become the United States.

   Ranging from the coast to the deserts to the mountains, the California tribes

spoke more than 100 languages. Thanks to a mild climate and rich wildlife, they

lived off the land with comparative ease. They wore little clothing, built

modest dwellings and were more peaceful than tribes elsewhere.

   But in 1776, the arrival of Spaniards and their missions put an end to a way

of life that had lasted for thousands of years. By 1846, enslavement and disease

had cut in half the state's population of Native Americans.

   After California joined the Union in 1850, ridding the Golden State of its

remaining Native Americans became official policy. State officials and

newspapers talked openly of extermination. Hunters were paid bounties for the

heads, ears or scalps of Native American men, women and children--and were

reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses by the Legislature.

   Proponents justified the policy by claiming California tribes were more

primitive than others, contemptuously calling them "diggers." The killing of

their children was dismissed with the common saying, "Nits will be lice."

   By 1870, California's Native American population had dropped to 30,000.

   "You have a situation of legalized, subsidized murder on a mass scale," said

Jim Rawls, an instructor of history at Diablo Valley College and author of the

new book, "Chief Red Fox is Dead." "The idea of ethnic cleansing is precisely

what was attempted here, with forced acculturation of the survivors."

   While reservations were established in other parts of the nation, most of

California's tribes--including the Karuks--were denied even that. Eighteen

treaties negotiated with the state's tribes that would have given them 8 million

acres never were ratified by Congress, in large part because of opposition from

the state.

   California's only true reservation--the Hoopa reservation--was established in

1864 not far from the Karuks' territory. Later, small out-of-the-way tracts

known as "rancherias" were placed in trust by the government for members of some

other tribes.

   But by the turn of the century, the few Native Americans left in California

largely were impoverished, homeless and scattered.

   In the 1950s, the U.S. government adopted a new policy of "terminating" the

tribes by breaking up their limited land holdings--distributing some of the

acreage they occupied among individual tribe members or taking it away


   It was during this era that the Karuks lost the sacred village site of

Katamin: the center of the Karuk world and where tribal members believe numerous

spirits dwell.

   Known to the non-Karuk world as Somes Bar, Katamin is just upriver from the

hill where tribe members performed the Jump Dance. It is the historic site of

another sacred ceremony, the annual Brush Dance.

   Unfortunately for those living at Katamin, the land never had been put in

trust for the tribe and the federal government seized it under the policy of


   The government assigned most of the property to the Forest Service, but sold

four acres to outsiders, who built the Somes Bar Lodge for hunters and

fishermen. Over the years, the Karuks continued to hold the Brush Dance--an

important rite of renewal--near the lodge while tourists sat on the porch and


   In 1993, the lodge's then-owner, Bradley Throgmorton, was arrested for

cultivating marijuana. He pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and forfeited the

Somes Bar property to federal authorities, who put it up for sale.

   The following December, California's Native American leaders met with

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in Palm Springs, and Karuk tribal planner Munk

asked for his help in reacquiring the sacred land for the tribe.

   After more than a year of negotiations with the Justice Department and other

government officials, the four acres finally were returned to the Karuks earlier

this year.

   "Land once used by a criminal who flouted the law will be returned to those

native peoples who hold it sacred," said U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.

   Now the tribe is negotiating with the U.S. Forest Service to win back the

rest of the Katamin site.

   In the 1960s, the Forest Service built a ranger station and work facility on

about 10 acres there. The structures have been plagued by landslides--which some

tribe members believe is no coincidence.

   Some buildings have been torn down. The Forest Service is considering

allowing the Karuks to occupy the remaining structures.

   "The thinking now is we should turn them over to the tribe," said George

Harper, Klamath National Forest district ranger. "They would probably occupy a

residence or two on the site and maintain it for its cultural and religious


   Such concessions by the Forest Service would have been highly unusual, if the

Klamath National Forest and the Karuks had not developed a strong working


   A number of Karuks are employed by the Forest Service, including two tribal

council members. The tribe and the agency work together on such matters as fire

suppression, controlled burns and the use of sacred sites in the forest for

religious ceremonies.

   "My perception is the tribe has gained a bureaucratic and political maturity

over the past several years," Harper said. "They have become skilled and astute

at working the system and acquiring funds."

   The Karuks, who once had 40 villages along the Klamath River, have used some

of their resources to buy ancestral lands from private owners and put them in


   Since 1979, the tribe has purchased about 600 acres, tribal chairman Johnson

said, about half of the land in Happy Camp, a historic village site where the

tribe's main offices are. The remainder is in Orleans, another historic village

site to the south, and in the city of Yreka, where many tribal members have


   With their initial success at rebuilding, the Karuks have started programs to

help tribe members and others in depressed Klamath River communities.

   In Orleans, where the construction of tribal housing has removed land from

the tax rolls, the Karuks used health service funds to double the community's

water treatment capacity. The tribe also bought a fire engine for the volunteer

fire department. In Happy Camp, among programs available to the non-Native

American community, the tribe offers a class on running a small business.

   Tribal leaders say the hardship their people have endured makes it easier for

them to adjust to the economic changes brought on by the near-collapse of the

region's timber industry.

   "Being Indian people and survivors, you have to learn when certain ways of

life are over and adapt," said Munk. "The reality is spotted owls are here to

stay. The old growth is gone. The mill has pulled out and is not coming back."

   For many Karuks, perhaps the best example of their resilience is the Jump


   Before it was revived in 1994, the ceremony had not been performed for 99

years. The dance, which is staged every sunset for 10 days, was performed again

in 1995 and will be again this month.

   When tribal members began planning to bring back the dance, no one alive had

ever seen it performed; only descriptions of the rite and some costume pieces

had been passed down from generation to generation.

   In a concession to modern times, last year some dancers wore shorts or blue

jeans with their deerskin skirts, abalone-shell necklaces and headdresses made

of the red scalps of woodpeckers.

   Re-created as a simple dance, the line of performers stomps and chants before

a manzanita fire. Despite the name given the ceremony by whites unfamiliar with

its religious significance, the Jump Dance includes only occasional jumping by

the lead dancer at the center of the line.

   While Karuk leaders acknowledge that rebuilding the tribe is a painfully slow

process, they say they are encouraged by their recent progress in reestablishing

sacred ceremonies, building their tribal economy and acquiring some of their

ancestral lands.

   "We will persevere as long as it takes," said Munk, the tribal planner.

'1491': Vanished Americans (holidaze)

'1491': Vanished Americans


MOST of us know, or think we know, what the first Europeans encountered when they began their formal invasion of the Americas in 1492: a pristine world of overwhelming natural abundance and precious few people; a hemisphere where - save perhaps for the Aztec and Mayan civilizations of Central America and the Incan state in Peru - human beings indeed trod lightly upon the earth. Small wonder that, right up to the present day, American Indians have usually been presented as either underachieving metahippies, tree-hugging saints or some combination of the two.

The trouble with all such stereotypes, as Charles C. Mann points out in his marvelous new book, "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," is that they are essentially dehumanizing. For cultural reasons of their own, Europeans and white Americans have "implicitly depicted Indians as people who never changed their environment from its original wild state. Because history is change, they were people without history."

Mann, a science journalist and co-author of four previous books on subjects ranging from aspirin to physics to the Internet, provides an important corrective - a sweeping portrait of human life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. This would be a formidable task under any circumstance, and it is complicated by the fact that so much of the deep American past is embroiled in vituperative political and scientific controversies.

Nearly everything about the Indians is currently a matter of contention. There is little or no agreement about when their ancestors first came to the Americas and where they came from; how many there were, how and where they lived and why they were not more effective in resisting the European invasion. New archaeological discoveries and interpretations of Indian materials are constantly altering the historical record, and every debate comes equipped with its own bevy of archaeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists tossing around personal invective with the abandon of Rudy Giuliani on a bad day.

Mann navigates adroitly through the controversies. He approaches each in the best scientific tradition, carefully sifting the evidence, never jumping to hasty conclusions, giving everyone a fair hearing - the experts and the amateurs; the accounts of the Indians and their conquerors. And rarely is he less than enthralling. A remarkably engaging writer, he lucidly explains the significance of everything from haplogroups to glottochronology to landraces. He offers amusing asides to some of his adventures across the hemisphere during the course of his research, but unlike so many contemporary journalists, he never lets his personal experiences overwhelm his subject.

Instead, Mann builds his story around what we want to know - the "Frequently Asked Questions," as he heads one chapter. He moves nimbly back and forth from the earliest prehistoric humans in the Americas to the Pilgrims' first encounter with the Indian they (mistakenly) called "Squanto"; from the villages of the Amazon rain forests to Cahokia, near modern St. Louis, the sole, long-vanished city of the North American Mound Builders; from the cultivation of maize to why it was that the Incas apparently developed the wheel but never used it as anything but a child's toy.

Mann remains resolutely agnostic on some of the fiercest debates. What he is most interested in showing us is how American Indians - like all other human beings - were intensely involved in shaping the world they lived in. He is sure that "many though not all Indians were superbly active land managers - they did not live lightly on the land." Just how they did live, so long uninfluenced by the vast majority of the world's population in Africa and Eurasia, forms the bulk of his fascinating narrative.

What emerges is an epic story, with a subtly altered tragedy at its heart. For all the European depredations in the Americas, the work of conquest was largely accomplished for them by their microbes, even before the white men arrived in any great numbers. The diseases brought along by the very first unwitting Spanish conquistadors, and probably by English fishermen working the New England coast, very likely triggered one of the greatest catastrophes in human history. Before the 16th century, there may have been as many as 90 million to 112 million people living in the Americas - people who could be as different from each other "as Turks and Swedes," but who had cumulatively developed an incredible range of natural environments, from seeding the Amazon Basin with fruit trees to terracing the mountains of Peru. (Even the term "New World" may be a misnomer; it is possible that the world's first city was in South America.

Then, disaster. According to some estimates, as much as 95 percent of the Indians may have died almost immediately on contact with various European diseases, particularly smallpox. That would have amounted to about one-fifth of the world's total population at the time, a level of destruction unequaled before or since. The exact numbers, like everything else, are in dispute, but it is clear that these plagues wreaked havoc on traditional Indian societies. European misreadings of America should not be attributed wholly to ethnic arrogance. The "savages" most of the colonists saw, without ever realizing it, were usually the traumatized, destitute survivors of ancient and intricate civilizations that had collapsed almost overnight. Even the superabundant "nature" the Europeans inherited had been largely put in place by these now absent gardeners, and had run wild only after they had ceased to cull and harvest it

In the end, the loss to us all was incalculable. As Mann writes, "Having grown separately for millennia, the Americas were a boundless sea of novel ideas, dreams, stories, philosophies, religions, moralities, discoveries and all the other products of the mind. Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures. The simple discovery by Europe of the existence of the Americas caused an intellectual ferment. How much grander would have been the tumult if Indian societies had survived in full splendor!

Kevin Baker is the author of the forthcoming historical novel "Strivers Row." 

Love Water Not Oi (environment)

Love Water Not Oil 2014 Tour

Honor the Earth's Love Water Not Oil Tour. An organizing and outreach tour in Northern Minnesota, aimed at engaging communities and summer residents along one of many tar sands and fracked oil pipelines proposed to cross the North Country: the Enbridge proposed Sandpiper pipeline. Not only is this tour about preventing the threat of pipelines, but it is also an act of solidarity to stop the extraction of tar sands and Bakken oil at their sources. We are linking in with Indigenous struggles at ground zero and engaging with communities who work in the struggle together to have clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink and resilient communities to protect the sacred for the seventh generation.

True Story of “Columbus Day” (holidaze)

Op-Ed: The True Story of “Columbus Day”

Posted by admin on October 9th, 2011


Every second Monday of every year here in America we are basically forced (with the exceptions of the states of Hawaii and South Dakota – of all places) to observe Columbus Day. For many Americans of Italian ancestry it is a day indeed for rejoicing at the fact that one of their own is regarded as a significant historical icon of sorts. For the vast majority of non-Italian, white Americans, it is a time to reflect upon the superior values of their technologically advanced culture and how this man’s adventurous nature has gifted them with so many of the modern day conveniences that they so competitively vie for. For the American Indian though, Columbus Day is that most obscene of travesties of a national observance, or should at least be widely considered as such by anyone who takes any degree of real pride in their identity as an Indian. I say travesty, as this description more than fully constitutes the grossest of likenesses of a so-called “holiday.” And for myself personally, this day is a day that I set aside to carefully consider exactly what Columbus Day means to me, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.   

As a child, then teenager from grades four through twelve, I grew up in Los Angeles, California, where my family settled in 1963 on one of the various relocation programs of forced assimilation into the federally perceived “better life” of the dominant portion of society. In elementary school, but not really so much in junior high and high school, I distinctly recall that we were all thoroughly indoctrinated by the public education system into believing that Christopher Columbus was the greatest hero that had ever lived. We had to participate in various plays, skits and reenactments of Columbus’s landing in the New World. We were required to bring something from home related to Columbus Day to show and tell our enthused teachers and classmates. We often were made to deliver speeches on the merits of the voyage of discovery and how this expedition was the very source of all things good in this world of ours. How many little ships did I fashion from different types of paper, those all-too-primitive representations of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria? For me during those years, Columbus was a demi-god, a near-deity to be adored, honored and even worshipped in an
entirely pre-programmed, empty-headed, uber-patriotic manner.   

It wasn’t until I went off to college in the mid-Seventies and took several history courses where I learned, among other things about the man, that Columbus was undeniably a pedophile of the worst kind, a trafficker of little girls.Under the direct supervision of Columbus, native girls were sold into sexual slavery, with some of them as young as nine or ten years old being the most desired by so-called “dealers” and customers in this sickening trade. Columbus even remarked in a log book that he maintained where he stated: “A hundred castellanoes (a unit of Spanish coinage of that era, most often gold) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and  there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls, with those of the ages of nine to ten years being the most in demand.”

Sexual slavery is commonly defined as the exercise of any or all of the powers attached to the “right of ownership” over a person. It consists of the repeated violation or sexual abuse or coercing of a victim to provide sexual services to include rape by the captor. The crime has the disgusting character of a continuous offense. Via modern international law, the definition of sexual slavery includes situations where persons are forced into domestic servitude, marriage or any other types of forced labor involving sexual activity, as well as the trafficking of persons, women and children in particular. That such perversities were allowed and even encouraged as bonafide business practices under Columbus was due to the fact that the native people whom Columbus first encountered were wholly regarded as sub-human, as no more than animal-like beings to be used for any purpose.

And what of Columbus’s men? A historian of that time, Peter Martyr, wrote that the men who served under Columbus were “debauchees, profligates, thieves, seducers, ravishers, vagabonds…given over to violence and rapine…lazy, gluttonous, caring only to sleep and carouse.”  The one word here that is the most alarming to me is “rapine,” which within the literary context of that time period meant “given to rape.” And rape, as we all know,
is the act of forced sexual intercourse.      

Besides establishing the value of female children as sexual commodities, Columbus and his crewmen came to view the native people of Hispaniola as simple beasts of burden, as willing slaves of extremely heavy, daily labor. The natives often worked in his gold mines until they perished of  sheer physical exhaustion. If any native worker did not deliver his or her quota of gold dust by the deadlines set by Columbus, the slave’s hands would be swiftly amputated by soldiers and tied around the neck in order to send a message that the gold quotas must at all times be met. At one point, one hundred of these slaves, no longer able to tolerate what was happening to them, killed themselves en masse and since Catholic law strictly forbade the enslavement of Christians, Columbus got around this particular problem area by refusing to have any native people baptized under any conditions. During Columbus’s second trip to the so-called New World, the intrepid mariner saw fit to bring along teams of vicious attack dogs. These dogs were trained to hunt down any slaves that tried to escape (if caught, they were burned alive). The dogs would invariably tear off the arms and legs of slaves upon capturing them or just rip them to shreds. And the Spaniards, being a cost-effective lot, quite often fed native infants to the attack dogs on those occasions when dog food ran low. Christopher Columbus obtained the lion’s share of his regular income from the native slave trade and he was also the first documented slave trader in the Americas. After all of the native slaves died off, they were rapidly replaced with slaves from Africa.  

Columbus’s campaign of unspeakable cruelty was so bad, even by the brutal standards of those days, that the Spanish Governor Francisco de Bobadilla had Columbus arrested, with two of his brothers, and bound in chains all three were sent back to Spain.Upon answering for their crimes against the natives, the King and Queen of Spain, glad beyond all measure that their royal coffers were being filled with gold, granted Columbus a full pardon setting him free to return to the islands to continue his work there.

Bartolome De Las Casas, a crewman of Columbus, was so deeply horrified by the violence being waged against the natives, that he entered the priesthood so that he could, in his own ministerial way, assist the native people. He gave descriptions as to how small children  who ran from the Spaniards had their legs cut off so that the sharpness of their blades could be tested.Wagers were placed among the men to see who was able to cut a person right in half with a single swipe of a sword. Native people also had their mouths filled with a crude soap that was boiling hot, which killed them agonizingly. De Las Casas witnessed in just one day how Spanish soldiers laughingly beheaded, mutilated or raped some 3000  natives.   

De Las Casas wrote: “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel. My eyes have seen these acts so  foreign to human nature that I now tremble as I write.” Father De Las Casas devoted the remainder of his life attempting to protect the lives and limbs of countless natives, who were very quickly vanishing as a people. It has been noted by numerous authorities on the subject that prior to 1492 the indigenous population numbered in excess of three million on the island of Hispaniola. 20 years after the Spanish had arrived, this number was reduced to some 60,000. Then a mere 50 years after Columbus first set foot in the “New World,” not a single native person among the original populace first encountered was alive there. 
But, I ask of myself: What does this have to do with me, today, as an American Indian? Whenever the name “Columbus” comes up in any way, shape or form, I am compelled to immediately think of two words, sexual slavery and genocide. And more specifically, to me, the legacy engendered by what constitutes this initial European treatment of the Western Hemisphere’s indigenous peoples continues today: the general belief within U.S. society that Indians are not worthy of being treated as human beings at all – and this is the ongoing system of oppression of Indian people that is yet so very pervasive. In my own life, how many times have I been “hated on,”discriminated against, misjudged, assessed as “less than,” evaluated as unimportant, and had to just eat bowl after bowl of other people’s excrement simply for being an Indian? The instances are so many as to be almost incalculable. Where does this kind of maltreatment have its origins? In the time of first contact between Europe and the Americas the grand stage was set for the sort of brutal stereotyping, bigotry, and prejudice that absolutely every Indian person I have ever met in my life has come to know. Ask virtually any Indian of any age, from any tribe, about their primary concern as an Indian and they will inform you of one thing and one thing only – how they are so awfully, so thoroughly, misunderstood by a society that either reveres and patronizes them out of a powerful sense of historical guilt or views them as insignificant, repulsive relics from a long bygone chapter or two of a history that the vast majority of them know next to nothing of.  

That Columbus Day remains as an annual celebration in most of the United States underscores the profound inability of this society to acknowledge actual historical facts that have been very well documented, facts that if were widely known would have changed America’s relationship with its indigenous peoples long ago by a country that proclaims itself to be the world’s sole bastion of truth, justice and freedom for all. Columbus Day is a perpetual glorification of murder, slavery and sexual perversity of the worst order, but more than that it is the very cradle of a demonically driven, wickedly embedded racism that is totally oblivious to any sense of morality, decency or even limits.     

Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He is currently working on a novel about family dysfunction. And he can be reached for comment at