Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Tomorrow is Columbus Day. Or, at least, it used to be. In many places around the country, like Minnesota, Columbus is out of favor. Last year, “activists” encouraged by the state’s governor and lieutenant governor tore down the statue of Christopher Columbus that stood on the grounds of the Minnesota Capitol. The statue has never been restored, and its removal exemplifies a new intellectual order premised on the belief that it would have been better if Europeans had never come to the Americas.

That is the view that animates the movement to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a movement that seemed ridiculous a few years ago, but now has largely succeeded. The implicit point is that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were morally superior to the Europeans and that the arrival of the Europeans was, for them at least, an unrelieved tragedy.

That attitude is reflected in Joe Biden’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day proclamation, the first such presidential recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It consists mostly of a paean to indigenous people, a category that includes, in this country, native Hawaiians and Alaskan natives as well as American Indians. This section of the proclamation contains at least one true observation:

Indigenous peoples have served, and continue to serve, in the United States Armed Forces with distinction and honor — at one of the highest rates of any group — defending our security every day.

That is true, and historically, if you attended an Indian pow-wow, it prominently featured displays of the American flag. I hope that is still the case. But this is not what Biden and his ilk are interested in. This profession of guilt is more to their taste:

We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country.

There are several problems with this formulation. First, note how “assimilation” is cited as an evil alongside violence and terror. Until very recently, pretty much everyone believed that assimilation of natives into American society was both good and necessary, much like assimilation of immigrants. In fact, it is hard to articulate any theory on which this would not be true. And yet, liberals now believe assimilation to be a great evil.

Biden’s reference to violence and terror is also politically correct but historically inaccurate. Biden implies that the violence and terror were all on the side of the Americans. But there was violence on both sides during Indian conflicts, and for terror the Indians were hard to beat. The most appalling violence between the two peoples was the Great Sioux Massacre of 1862, in which 600 whites were slaughtered, many of them women (a great many of whom were also raped), and 100 or more were children under ten years old. Will that sickening event be remembered on Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Biden also issued a proclamation recognizing Columbus Day–hedging his bets, one might say. But the Columbus Day proclamation was just as bad as the one honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day, if not worse. It suggested that on the whole, Columbus’s discovery of America was a tragedy. After a perfunctory acknowledgement of Columbus’s achievement, it continued:

Today, we also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities. It is a measure of our greatness as a Nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past — that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them. For Native Americans, western exploration ushered in a wave of devastation: violence perpetrated against Native communities, displacement and theft of Tribal homelands, the introduction and spread of disease, and more.

Completely absent from Biden’s proclamations is any understanding of the positive aspects of European settlement for the natives. When European settlers arrived in what is now America, the natives were Stone Age people, thousands of years behind the Europeans in cultural and scientific development. They had not discovered metals. They wore animal skins. They had no draft animals; some say this is why they had not invented the wheel. Warfare of the cruelest sort was constant among most of the tribes, many of which practiced slavery. Among the more powerful, public torture of captured enemies was a popular form of entertainment. Needless to say, virtually nothing that could be considered medical care existed, and life expectancy was appallingly low.

Over time, the European settlement of America rescued the Indians from this primitive condition. The Europeans and Americans brought metal implements–pots and pans, tools, and guns, which the Indians valued most of all–cloth apparel, horses, written languages, and medicines, and generally did their best to suppress the warfare that was endemic among the tribes. The great misfortune for the Indians was that the Europeans also brought diseases to which the Indians, having lived in isolation for many centuries, had no immunity. Indians reciprocated by bestowing syphilis on the Europeans.

It is often said that groveling statements like those issued by Joe Biden reflect self-hatred, but I do not think that is correct. I don’t think liberals hate themselves. On the contrary, I think they are puffed up with unmerited self-regard. I think they hate you. And they associate you–not themselves–with the United States of America.

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