Many people recognize today as Columbus Day, but that’s not the case in Seattle, Spokane, Olympia and Yakima. Those cities have voted instead to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of Washington’s Swinomish Tribe and president of the National Congress of American Indians, said he’s glad some people are recognizing today as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
But he said we still have a ways to go to tell the true story of Christopher Columbus and his impact on our country’s indigenous people. “It’s unfortunate that we do not teach our history, our history as it played out,” he said.
Cladoosby said the history behind Columbus has been “whitewashed.”
“His first journal entry talked about a people that were welcoming to him that were loving, caring and sharing. They welcomed him and then he just turned around and his first journal entry said, these are very strong men that would make good slaves,” Cladoosby said.
Fast forward a few hundred years and the U.S. government started putting Native American kids in boarding schools. They would take them away from their families, teach them English, Westernize them. The goal was literally to “Kill the Indian, save the man.”
“Boarding schools had untold physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse and sexual abuse,” Cladoosby said. “We went from teaching our kids how to be hunters and gatherers, living off the land, to this boarding school experience that brought in a lot of negativity into our communities. And our elders turned to alcohol to drown their sorrows from that post traumatic stress disorder that they had to deal with.”
Cladoosby said besides alcohol and drug abuse, tribes today are dealing with other effects that stem from that historical trauma that’s been passes down from generation to generation.
Native American kids have the highest school dropout and suicide rates of any other racial, ethnic or age group in the country.
Despite all this, Cladoosby said there have been some good news stories coming out of Washington this year.
“The biggest milestone that we were able to achieve this year with the cooperation of the tribes here in the Puget Sound was the great decision we got from the Corps of Engineers to put a halt to the largest coal exporting facility in our backyard,” he said.
The largest coal terminal in North America was supposed to go on Lummi land, north of Everett. Tribal members said it would have hurt their ability to fish on their traditional grounds. It’s a similar battle to what we’ve been seeing on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation over the Dakota access pipeline in recent weeks.
Cladoosby said tribes in Washington will continue to focus on protecting the environment and work on using education as a tool to combat historical trauma brought on since 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.