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Columbus Day 1992: A Glance Back at the Culture War that Divides America Today

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (This logo was used without permission and does not signify an approval or endorsement of this blog by ECHS)

In some ways, Columbus Day is Ground Zero for the culture wars. Here is where the two white sides square off in the battle for power in America. Each white side claims right is on its side and as always the American Indians are caught in the middle. This blog is a continuation of a series on the white people conflict between Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. For those who are keeping track, the previous related blogs are listed at the conclusion of this one.

In this post, I want to focus on the words of James Axtell who in 1992 was a history professor at the College of William and Mary and the chair of the American Historical Association’s Columbus Quincentenary Committee.  In that capacity, he authored an article “Columbian Encounters: Beyond 1992,” published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1992.

Axtell began the article optimistically. He expressed his hope that the Columbus Quincentenary would be more successful than the Bicentennial had been in realizing its educational potential. He identified various reasons why it would make a deeper public and pedagogical impact than the 1776 anniversary celebration had. Since then, of course, the intensity of the culture wars has grown.

In his analysis, Axtell introduces a critical term that unfortunately has never caught on. He recommends the word “Encounter” as the theme of the Quincentenary. He does so “although natives. Critics, and activists may not approve the idea, encounters are morally neutral: the term does not prejudge the nature of the contact or its outcome.” Naturally I was quite pleased to read about his use of this term since without being aware of this article and more familiar with the term from the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” I had used that very word in my own blog in 2017 appropriately entitled Columbus Day: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The bulk of the Axtell’s article recounts his impressive familiarity with all articles, books, conferences, exhibits, and manner of scholarship related to the Quincentenary. He is pleasantly surprised that the quality of Quincentenary scholarship is so high. Now what, he asks at the end? What should be done to keep the momentum going beyond 1992? He wrote:

My survey of the Columbian Encounter field suggests the following prescriptions:

(1) We should focus on Columbus as a man of extraordinary perseverance, skill, and luck but a man nonetheless – flawed like all men. Rather than caricaturing him as an oversized hero or villain we should see him in full perspective, pre- and post-1492, and measure him primarily against the men, ideas, and mores of his own time.

(2) We should pay more attention to Europe on the eve of colonization as the locus of experience, goals, and methods for the American incursions.

(3) We should pay much more attention to precontact America: its complexity, variety, demography, and deep reservoirs of human experience. We should make greater efforts to really hear native voices from the past and in the present, not only for Clio’s sake but to advance our own necessary and liberating education in otherness.

(4) In our writing and teaching of colonial history, we should rescue the sixteenth century from undeserved neglect. Without it, we have no hope of making sense of its more familiar sequel.

(5) We must learn to do justice to Hispanic America, first by ridding ourselves of the Black Legend and then by pursuing its history beyond the short conquest phase into the less sanguinary settlement period of city building, imperial bureaucracy, sugar plantations, cattle ranches, and widespread acculturation. We should also do a better job of integrating the Spanish borderlands with the histories of North America and the United States.

(6) By the same token, we should incorporate the history of the Caribbean, where Europe often fought its intercolonial wars before landing on North American soil, because the sugar islands were so valuable to the mother countries.

(7) We should continue to pay attention to the role of disease and biological imperialism in the conquest and depopulation of the Americas. But we should refine our estimates of mortality to accord with the best available evidence and with common sense.

(8) While well-publicized historical anniversaries occasions for them, we should curb the temptation worse, predetermined moral judgments on the enough after we have done our homework thoroughly.

(9) Whenever possible, we should resort to the insights and viewpoints of other disciplines, such as anthropology, archaeology, ethnohistory, cartography, historical geography, and colonial discourse. Even the historical fiction of Latin American novelists such Abel Posse, Alejo Carpentier, and Antonio Benitez-Rojo stretches the imaginative limits of our understanding of the Spanish and Indian heritages of that first, vast, other America.

(10) On a similar tack, we should employ whenever possible a comparative perspective on the American Encounter-comparing French, Spanish, English, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, and Russian efforts with each other and American efforts with colonial efforts in other parts of the world-in order to separate the unique from the typical.

(11) The well-modulated public and scholarly success of the Quincentenary should inspire us to design future historical anniversaries as opportunities less for celebration than for cerebration. We must also be very careful about who is included in, and who feels excluded from, “We the

People.” Ethnic, gender, and racial sensitivities are likely to grow; parity of treatment and attention-and, perhaps as important, the appearance of parity-must be extended to all citizens, past and present. We can start by rethinking our historical vocabulary: Old and New World, discoverer, discovery, Indian, Amerindian, America, American, Latin American, and the West are factually, morally, or culturally problematic.

 (12) Finally, we should all study to become better citizens of the “global village” we now inhabit, the foundations of which Columbus laid in I492. If we do not learn to protect, respect, and sustain its people and to conserve and renew its resources, it will be much poorer when the Columbian sexcentenary occurs. Perhaps some of the lessons we draw from our study of the first Encounter will prevent such a fate.

I make no judgement as to what has happened in the academic arena. I leave that to the scholars in the field. In the public arena, the story is more telling. With the passage of time, Columbus has become even more of a villain to politically-corrected white people. We are quicker to pass judgement now and more vehement and vicious in so doing. The interest now in pre-contact American Indians has more to do with the superiority their way of life to that of white people with all white peoples of all nations being lumped together. Instead of the Encounters leading to a better understanding of all the people and peoples involved, two-dimensional clichés trump all other concerns.

Can we do better? Consider this example from Lewiston, New York, on what one community is doing better and that there is more to be done. From the Historical Association of Lewiston newsletter which is sent to me:


Please support scholarship fund

       Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to celebrate and honor Native Americans and to commemorate their shared history and culture.  The Village and Town of Lewiston celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day simultaneously.

     At the Historical Association of Lewiston, we decided to honor our Tuscarora neighbors, by awarding a scholarship to a deserving Tuscarora student. It is our hope to make this an annual award given out every year on Indigenous Peoples day in front of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument on Center Street in the Village of Lewiston.

     As a non-profit organization, the Historical Association is soliciting public donations to help sponsor the scholarship.  We hope you will find it worthy of your generosity and urge you to support this cause.  Your donations can be made to the Historical Association of Lewiston, P.O. Box 43, Lewiston, NY 14092.  Make a note that you want your donation to go to the Tuscarora Scholarship fund.  We can provide you with a receipt for tax purposes if requested. Thank you!

The good news is that the community is recognizing the Tuscarora. The shortcoming is that the Tuscarora are not included in the title of the holiday. With Columbus, there is a proper noun and no confusion as to who is being celebrated. With Indigenous, the people honored could be anywhere in the world: indigenous Canadians, indigenous Australians, indigenous Latin Americans (see Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America). If Lewiston has a Tuscarora Heroes Monument then it should have Tuscarora Day as well and it should be on a day most relevant to the Tuscarora.

Here is another example, this time from the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY).

Native American Heritage Day

Sunday, October 13, 11am–12pm

 Celebrate the vast history and contemporary voices of Native American New Yorkers who come from Tribal Nations across the country. Enjoy storytelling, songs, and dances performed by the renowned Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. See Lenape objects in New York at Its Core and contemporary art by Native American New Yorkers in Urban Indian: Native New York Now, and create art to take home.

Notice the dichotomy. The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers call themselves American Indians while the MCNY quickly switches to its preferred politically correct term. But it does call the Lenape by their name and does use the term “Indian” in the exhibit name.

At the recent James Fenimore Cooper & Susan Cooper Conference: “E Pluribus Unum: Cooper, Cosmopolis, and American Identity” (SUNY Oneonta, September 25-25, 2019), there was a Commanche presenter. She always referred to herself as a Commanche or to American Indians in general. It was the white people who used the term “Native Americans.”

In the New York Times on October 13, 2019, just after October 12 and before the Monday holiday, in an article entitled “Sharp Cuts in Immigration Threaten U.S. Economy, Austan Goolsbee wrote about the positive impact immigrants have:

…the evidence increasingly says having immigrants here makes workers born in the United States more successful.

            That’s partly because immigrants start companies at twice the rate of native Americans.

How the New York Times let this reporter get away with such politically incorrect language is a mystery. And if you read the sentence aloud, how could you distinguish between “native Americans” and “Native Americans” anyway?

To make matters worse, the Sunday Review section of the New York Times on the very same October 13 day, had a big front page picture and article by Brent Staples entitled “How Italians Became White,” another part of the Columbus Day story that deserves to be remembered (for the Italians see Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America).

The Encounter theme proposed by Axtell back in 1992 is the way out of this morass if we want a “win-win” resolution rather than a “zero-sum” war. It applies not only to Columbus Day but to the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution which is now gearing up (we have a meeting tonight on this event).

In New York, where I live I can consider three excellent places where to have encounters, perhaps annual rotating conferences).

National Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian – this location in lower Manhattan is the area where Hudson and the Lenape made contact leading to the creation of New Amsterdam and then New York.

The William Johnson state and private historic sites in the Mohawk Valley – Irish Johnson was the British Superintendent of Indian Affairs whose career involved him with numerous Indian tribes and nations and European nationalities.

Battle of Oriskany in the Mohawk Valley – This prelude to the Battle of Saratoga revealed that not only was the American Revolution a civil war among European peoples, it was a civil war among Indian peoples where two members of the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee confederation, the Seneca and the Oneida fought on opposite sides against each other.

One could add Cooperstown of Leatherstocking fame, Thanksgiving, Lewis and Clark, Little Big Horn, and a slew of western sites as places of encounters. As things stand now, slice and dice trumps We the People but I prefer to believe that there will come a time when American Indians are recognized as being part of the American experience and Columbus is an individual human being.

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A Lose-Lose War

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part III- The Meaning of “Indigenous”

If You Are a Native New Yorker, Are You a Native American?: The Weaponization of “Native” and the Culture Wars

If You Are a Native New Yorker, Are You a Native American?: The Weaponization of “Native” and the Culture Wars

Bronx and Queens Natives (

The Cherokee Nation is in the news. No, not for the Trail of Tears, but to fulfill a centuries old treaty pledge. The Treaties of Hopewell (1785) and New Echota (1835) contained the right of the Cherokee Nation to send a delegate to the House of Representatives. Now the Cherokees are poised to act upon the pledge and name a delegate.

This action reminded me that I needed to complete the discussion about Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It began when three states self-righteously “dumped” and “ditched” the former in favor of the latter (Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A Lose-Lose War). That blog was followed by an examination of the role of Columbus and Columbia in American history (Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America). The next blog in the thread focused on the weaponized use of the term “indigenous” and the calamitous effect the now bogus term would have if it were applied in the global arena outside the elitist college environment where it originated. Its effects would be truly devastating especially to Moslems and Arabs if the nations of the world adopted this American invention as their own policy (Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part III- The Meaning of “Indigenous”).

In this blog, I wish to address the weaponization of the term “native.” Consider the following examples. They are not the result of an internet search. They are not a scientific sample. Instead they simply are the examples I happen to come across while reading the printed version newspapers and magazines I receive.

March 15 New York Times op-ed on billionaires and prostitutes: “A professional escort (or even just a native, English-speaking one)…” In other words, instead of patronizing Chinese natives at Orchids of Asia Spa in Florida, why not use a native? Presumably this English-speaking native might be black or white or even an American Indian but one might infer from the op-ed that the author intended the use of “native” to refer to white people.

May 10 New York Times wedding article: “[The groom] met [the bride}, a native New Yorker.” Based on the bride’s photograph and last name, the native New Yorker probably was of Chinese descent or East Asian. The music of Barry Manilow was played during the reception.

Note – It is important here to remember the distorted use of the term Asian-American. It does not actually mean people from anywhere in Asia. In a description of the movie “Always Be My Maybe,” (New York Times, June 2, 2019), the author notes the involvement of “a pair of Asian-American stars” and “an Iranian-American female director.” So whereas Iran (Persia) was part of Asia for more than two millennia, now it no longer is. Geography teachers should be notified of this change.

May 12 New York Times book review by Nancy Foner, a prominent person in immigration issues: “An astounding 77 percent of adult Indian immigrants in 2015 had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 29 percent of all immigrants and 31 percent of native-born adults.”

May 15 Journal News: Iona College Names Bronx Native as New President (headline).

August 5 Time on Iceland’s Prime Minister: “Many cultures have native words for unique experiences.” The native cultures presented to illustrate the point are Iceland, Germany, and Spain. I think it is fair to say that these native cultures consist of white people.

All of these examples of the use of the word “native” are normal traditional uses without any awareness or belief that such usage might be improper. One suspects these natives of the Bronx, New York, Florida, and the entire country all consider themselves American natives.

Of course, it is no secret that Native Americans are not actually native to America. The idea that people from the Greek-based word Asia crossed over into the Italian-based word America is not new. Scholars debate exactly when the people crossed over, exactly how, and in exactly how many waves. There is unanimity among them that people did leave the eastern hemisphere for the western hemisphere millennia ago.

Lately due to advances in deciphering of DNA evidence, scientists have been able to develop a more detailed understanding of these people were who undertook the journey. Here is the title of one such article from Science Magazine (online, June 5) on the subject:

Closest-known ancestor of today’s Native Americans found in Siberia.

Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the title mean the people are Native Siberians who emigrated to America? The first sentence adds to the linguistic confusion.

Indigenous Americans… descend from humans who crossed over an ancient land bridge connecting Siberia in Russia to Alaska tens of thousands years ago.

Under normal circumstances, one would expect the editor to correct the writer to say that indigenous Siberians crossed over to Alaska, but these are not normal times and the meanings of words are distorted.

The article describes multiple movements by multiple peoples not all of whom remain extant today.  As a result of this DNA analysis,

It’s the closest we have ever gotten to a Native American ancestor outside the Americas.

Can you imagine someone saying the following about DNA analysis fro a people who migrated west into Europe?

It’s the closest we have ever gotten to a Native Italian ancestor outside Italy.

In the New York Times (June 11, 2019), the teaser on the front page of Science section states “A lost people in Asia may be ancestors of Native Irish.”  I am sorry, I mean a lost people in Siberia may be ancestors of Native Americans. The article provides more details than did the Science Magazine one. It refers to an article just published in the journal Nature about new clues “to the migrations that first brought people to the America.” Presumably if you migrate from England, France, Spain, or Holland on ships instead of by land to America, once you arrive here you become a Native America just as if you come from Siberia. Right?

According to the article, these geneticists have learned that people who live in a place today often have little genetic connection to those who lived there thousands of years ago. Is that even legal?

Wait. It gets worse. As the geneticists traced the various combinations of peoples over extended periods of time who mixed and mingled, they discovered an unexpected participant.

The story gets more complicated. Shortly after that split [24,000 years ago of the ancestors of the Native Americans and Ancient Paleo-Siberians], the ancestors of Native Americans encountered another population with genetic ties to Europe.


 All living Native Americans carry a mixture of genes from these two groups.
                The new study can’t pinpoint exactly where Native Americans emerged from the meeting of these two peoples.

So not only are Native American not native to America, they have genetic ties to a people from Europe!


So what then should these people be called?

In 2018, a professor posted a query on H-Early-America, one of numerous H-Net discussion groups which have been created in the academic setting. The question raised was “Help with ‘Native American’ terminology.”

I recently submitted a proposal for a new course that I will teach in our first year seminar program in the fall.  It entails two Reacting to the Past games:  Forest Diplomacy, 1756-1757 and Greenwich Village 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman.  My question is about the former.  In the “official” description of the course, the author uses the word “Indian.”   This is the comment I got from the committee that approved my course:  “The committee would like to note that Native Americans are called “Indians” in the description. We are curious about this word choice (when a more accurate/ politically agreed upon way to describe this population these days is Native American). Perhaps this is how historians talk about the past. But it is worth raising as a question and as feedback.” I chose not to engage immediately since I was simply happy that they approved the course.  But now I’m curious–and would like to respond to the committee since they chose to raise it as an issue.  Is it indeed a settled issue among historians that we don’t use the term Indian and instead used Native American?  I’ve always understood that it is NOT settled and that “Indian” is an acceptable term, but I could certainly be educated by the experts in the field. 

Here we have a classic example of the thought police at an elitist college gently showing the history professor sinner the error of her ways without appearing to be too zealous. The answers to the query help shed light on the present situation.

I wanted to respond since I’ve had almost the exact same conversation regarding my “Imagining American Indians in Film” course. First of all, stick to your guns, as the committee is, in perhaps overly-simplistic terms, incorrect. It is a terminology in flux.

With that in mind, here are some concrete ways to respond.

I start by framing the conversation around the right of groups to choose their own terminology. This is written into the inclusive language policy at my institution, so I make sure to point to that.

In that sense, I always use national/tribal names when possible, deferring to the term preferred by the nation itself. For example, Dine rather than Navajo or Haudenosaunee rather than Iroquois. In moments when I need to refer to people more broadly, I use American Indian. On this I turn to a number of sources to defend that position. The first are American Indians themselves. While the opinion is not unanimous, high-profile individuals have made the case for keeping American Indian. Sherman Alexie is a particularly popular one. There are also larger connections to the history of American Indian activism that many Indian people want to preserve. Finally, there is a legal case for continuing to identify as American Indian, as this is the term enshrined in case law.

Note the use of the term “nation.”

A lengthy comment reiterated these points while offering an interesting take on how once again American Indians are victims of white cultural imperialism.

It is my experience since becoming a historian in my second career that American Indians prefer to be called “American Indians” (after their tribal identification, of course). This comes from asking members, especially when I was a historian with the National Park Service and worked on many projects with tribal historians and other tribal members, as well as in my own research and writing, and the overwhelming response I received was “American Indian” was preferred almost to a man and woman. I am no longer with the NPS, but I understand the agency conducted a survey before compiling its style guide a few years ago, and the respondents overwhelmingly preferred “American Indian.” While some answered “either” was “acceptable,” many more expressed the view that they felt “Native American” was offensive, paternalistic and racist.

When I asked a Cherokee colleague in @ 2003 or 2004, who had been the tribal historic preservation officer before coming to NPS, he said, “if you were born here, you’re a native American.” Then he said “those who prefer ‘Native American’ generally fall into one of three categories: (1) those who work for the government; (2) those who work on university campuses; and (3) white people who claim to be 1/32 Cherokee.” When I was working on the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration, 2004-2006, I attended a national conference on the topic, and the presenters were divided in their usage. All the Indian historians called native peoples INDIANS; while the only ones who used “Native Americans” were white academics. I understand the Associated Press style guide has recently dropped its insistence that “Native American” is the preferred term in light of other recent surveys.

Something similar may be observed in the comments about the proposed Cherokee delegate to the House of Representatives consistent with these comments. Chuck Hosin Jr., chief of the Cherokee Nation, said:

Because this is such a historic and unprecedented action by an Indian nation, I think the delegate will have a broader responsibility to help to be a voice for all Indian Country. I’ve seen the power of the tribes collaborating and standing in solidarity on issues. It is my expectation that Ms. Teehee [the proposed delegate] will be mindful of broader issues in all of Indian Country.

Charles Gourd, the director of the Cherokee National Historical Society, commenting of the benefit of the change, said:

Right now what you have to have to do is hope there’s a friendly congressperson that has a staffer that knows anything about Indian issues at all.

Dan Lewerenz, Iowa Tribe, said:

The treaty doesn’t say anything about the Cherokee being a stand-in for other tribes.

How come these people are not using politically correct terminology?  Where is the Thought Police when you need them?

At the recent conference of the Society for Historians of the Early Republic (SHEAR), the opening plenary session included a presentation on the Cherokee. The historian consistently referred to these people by their proper name. Similarly other Indian peoples mentioned in the talk, the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, also were referred to by proper noun name. Collectively they were Indian Nations. Again, note that term “nation.” It is easy to overlook the importance placed by American Indians on being recognized as a nation. They recognized that England and the United States were nations and saw themselves as comparable political entities. “Nativizing” them strips them of this identity. The academics who work with the American Indians know that these people are entitled to the same respect one would show European peoples: use their name and recognize their “nationess.”

American Indians recognize that the term “Native Americans” was created by white people based on the needs of white people. These white people have a lot of power and can be relentless in imposing their will. Eventually the American Indians may have no choice but to submit to the power of the politically correct. One should recognize therefore that weaponization of “native” and “indigenous” did not arise from a grassroots need. American Indians had no objection to being called American Indians until white people told them they should. The use of these terms should be understood as part of the culture war within white people where American Indians are a pawn to be used to fit a white agenda.

Why would white people do this?

What should be done about it?

[This blog was revised September 2, 2019, due to the Cherokee Nation request to seat a delegate]

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part III- The Meaning of “Indigenous”

This blog is the third in a series of five about the issue of Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The first one Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A Lose-Lose War arose due to some recent state decisions to “dump” or “ditch” Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ day. The second Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America examined the place of Columbus and Columbia in American history. This blog will examine the use of the word “indigenous.”  In the following blogs, I will address how this war happened and suggest what we should do about it.

The following items about the meaning of “indigenous” are the product of reading the newspaper daily. In my case it is the New York Times. These examples are not the result of internet searches or exhaustive research. They derive from current events provided one pays attention. Dates are from the print editions


Who are these “Indigenous” people? The article does identify them but the title is telling. In the previous blog I mentioned the Italians, Irish, and Germans in America. Can you imagine an article about filmmakers from any of these people that did not identify them by name in the title? Or by black people? Instead, “Indigenous” is treated as a capitalized proper noun as if it were the name of the people. It conveys the message that there is a global people called Indigenous as if they are a single people.

Where in the world are these Indigenous people located anyway? Are they Indigenous Canadians? Indigenous Americans? Indigenous Mexicans? Indigenous Peruvians? I exclude Europe because rarely if ever are white people referred to as Indigenous. That exclusion is part of the weaponization of the term. In fact white people, non-capitalized, are separate from Indigenous people in the article. As it turns out in this instance the Indigenous people are in Australia.

How do Indigenous people live? According to this article, Indigenous life is one of “hunting, fishing, lounging in the stunning and rugged landscape, interacting with condescending local [white, one presumes] bureaucrats.” Keep in mind the pre-technology description of the people living a Paleolithic life. That description of a simpler life also is part of the weaponization of the term to be addressed in the next blog.


Once again the Indigenous people are Australians but this time on islands. They are very small islands compared to the main island of Australia. These islands are threatened by the rising seas due to global warming. According to a lawyer involved in seeking to resolve this situation on behalf of the Indigenous people:

“If Indigenous people are disposed of their homelands, then they can’t continue to practice their culture.”

It should be comforting to know that if we non-Indigenous people are disposed of our homelands we still will be able to practice our culture.


Given that Indigenous people are located globally except for Europe, one might think that to perpetrate a genocide against them would require a global action. However, that is not the case. Putting the inconsistency aside, what is striking about the article is the reference to the people attending the announcement of an inquiry into these killings:

Most in the audience were in traditional Indigenous dress and held red flowers in remembrance of the women.

They did not wear traditional Irish dress or Greek dress or Ukrainian dress but an Indigenous dress worn by all Indigenous people.


In this instance, the title identifies the person as a Mohawk and not as an Indigenous person. The article does recount the use of indigenous (non-capitalized) languages. It lauds the “contributions of indigenous soldiers in World War II.” The obituary reads like a composite. Part of it seems to have been written in pre-politically correct times when American Indians were referred to by their proper noun names. Four different tribes are mentioned in the article. Another reads as if the word “Indian” in the original obituary subsequently was cleansed and replaced by “indigenous.” I cannot prove that but it is an odd mixture of the traditional and the politically correct.

Suppose now you were an historian thousands of years from now and came across these articles. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to include that all Indigenous people wore the same traditional clothes, practiced hunting, fishing, spoke the same or similar languages, and were condescended to by presumably white bureaucrats? Australia, islands, Canada, United States, it’s all the same. They are all Indigenous. How would you they are different? Don’t these descriptions remind you of the phrase “if you’ve seen one Indigenous people, you’ve seen them all”? Doesn’t the depiction of these people remind you of two-dimensional Disney characters?  Isn’t the condescension of the politically correct white people abhorrent and degrading?

Let’s turn to some more explosive political situations.


In this situation, the indigenous peoples are Indians. They practice the Hindu religion. They are in conflict with the non-indigenous Moslems. One Muslim complained of the treatment.

“I could be lynched right now and nobody would do anything about it. My government doesn’t even consider me Indian. How can that be when my ancestors have lived here hundreds of years?”

These foreigners will never belong in India. They can never become indigenous. They will always be the outsiders to the native Indians who have superior numbers and power unlike the American Indians. This foreigner fears being lynched by the indigenous people. As nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked:

“Who attempted to defame our 5,000-years-old culture? Who brought the word Hindu terrorism? Who committed the sin of labeling Hindus as terrorists?”

As one supporter said:

“[I]f Hindus can come together and Muslims can be defeated, then India can regain its past glory.”

India is not looking to an imaginary Wikanda or to the Paleolithic past. These indigenous people of 5,000 years are looking to defeat the non-indigenous foreigners in this world. Since this newspaper article was written, Modi won his re-election by a huge amount. Score one for the Indigenous people over the outsiders.


This article recounts the plight of the Muslim Rohingya. They have been displaced by Myanmar Buddhists. According to Wikipedia,

Myanmar law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of the eight “national indigenous races”.

Score two for the Indigenous people over the outsider.


This op-ed piece followed the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. According to the Sri Lanka Moslem author:

Sri Lankan Muslims trace our roots back to the Arab traders and Sufi mystics who brought Islam to Sri Lanka in the seventh century.

That doesn’t cut it. Whether it was the hundreds of years cited in the Indian article above or 1300 years here those time frames do not make you a native. You are not indigenous to Sri Lanka. You will always be an outsider and never will belong there.

The reference to the Arabs and the seventh century is a reminder that Arabs are scarcely indigenous anywhere. Loosely speaking they originated in the area where Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan come together. They are not indigenous to Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and most of the those four countries. Thanks to the camel they began to expand outwards as traders, mercenaries, and guides beginning in the 9th century BCE, over 1500 years before Mohammed.  Some Arabs were forcibly resettled by the non-Arab Assyrians. The big push occurred in the seventh century when the Arabs conquered much of the Middle East and imposed their religion on the locals. Sounds like Spain in the Western Hemisphere doesn’t it?  Christian Lebanese sometimes identify as non-Arab Phoenicians who were in the land before the Arabs. A recent article on DNA analysis DNA from Medieval Crusader Skeletons Suggests Surprising Diversity concludes:

Today’s Lebanese people are clearly descended from the people who have lived in the area since the Bronze Age, with little trace of the temporary European invaders.

That Bronze Age ended roughly 2000 years before the Arab invasions. The Arabs are indigenous only to a small area of the lands they occupy today.

Consider this final example from op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof (“The Missing Element to Beat Poverty” [May 30, 2019]). He describes his visit to Paraguay. While there he encounters indigenous people. He chooses not to capitalize the word unlike the reporters for the newspaper. He writes about the economic hardships these people face and likens it to the plight of indigenous people around the world from America to Australia. Now suppose this woman he met emigrated to the United States, would she still be indigenous? Or since she was from Paraguay would she be classified as Hispanic? When indigenous people are repressed by non-indigenous people in Latin America, how should they be classified when both of them come to America?

That very issue was raised in “The Brutal Math of Asylum” (March 10, 2019). The article describes another woman who:

was part of the Garifuna community, descendants of enslaved Africans and Indigenous Central Americans [in Honduras].  

Notice the reporter capitalizes Indigenous. So what is this person if she is granted asylum in America? Is she still Indigenous even though she no longer lives in her homeland? Is she Hispanic because she is from Central America even though she seems to have no European ancestry? Is she African American even though she was not part of the middle passage to the United States (like Obama and Harris)?

In a previous blog not sent to the history community, I wrote: How the Politically-Correct Helped Elect Donald Trump… 2016

The issue of American Indians bears further analysis. In the United States there are Indian nations or tribes. Demographically they are categorized separately from other peoples. What about Indian peoples from south of the American border. How are they classified? Consider this letter from my local paper (2/15/19) entitled “I’m not Latin:”

Let me start off this letter by saying that I’m not Latin nor am I Hispanic, Latino, Spanish, or Latin American. These wildly misleading terms for Spanish-speaking Americans are implicative of European colonization and its culturally-corrosive ethos. My family heritage is that of the Quechua peoples of Ecuador, and many Spanish-speaking individuals I’ve encountered find offense in being subjected to a label that misconstrues their ethnicity (i.e., “Latin”). I consider myself an Indigenous Americano, so don’t call me or my Central and South American neighbors “Latin” or any of the misguided aforementioned labels.

When I was growing up I don’t recall hearing the word “indigenous” often. Peoples usually had real names. Sometimes they were their own names, sometimes they were the names others applied to them – Indians, Asians, Egyptians, etc. Now these Eurocentric names are to be banished from polite conversation. People are to be referred to as Indigenous no matter where they are in the world. The word “Indigenous” has now been weaponized by some white Americans in the culture wars against other white Americans and imposed on people who had names for themselves and never used the word “Indigenous.” The result is a simpleminded, superficial, bogus term that produces strange results when removed from the American context that created it. Why did the politically correct unleash this weapon?

To be continued.

Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Part II – Columbus and America

New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo and participants march down Fifth Avenue during the annual Columbus Day parade on October 8, 2018 in New York City. [Photo/VCG](

This blog is the second in a series on the war between Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The catalyst for this series was the recent string of victories for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Maine, Vermont, and New Mexico. Those events were covered in the first blog Columbus Day versus Indigenous Peoples’ Day: A Lose-Lose War. In this blog I will examine Columbus and America before turning to Indigenous Peoples.

Let’s review various events in American history to gain a sense of what Columbus meant to the country even before the wave of Italian migration began.

In 1775 on the eve of the American Revolution a poet wrote “His Excellency, George Washington” using the Columbia symbol.

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
   Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and veil of night!

   The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel bind her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

The poem lauds Washington and the cause of freedom. Eventually Washington did meet the author of the poem. The author’s name was Phillis Wheatley, a very recently freed slave in Massachusetts by way of Senegal. The use of female Greek goddesses to represent countries was not new; her selection of the name Columbia for the colonies who had not yet declared their independence apparently was.

Regardless of whether or not Wheatley was the first to employ the name Columbia, the female version of Columbus, the name certainly stuck [one always has to wonder how the audience would have understood the symbol if it had never been used before but then again somebody has to be the first].

In 1784, King’s College reopened after the conclusion of the American Revolution as Columbia College.

In 1789, Washington took office to the music “The President’s March”. Then in 1798, the music acquired lyrics and a new title “Hail, Columbia.”

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav’n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom’s cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom’s cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy’d the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

While “Hail Columbia” is no longer the unofficial national anthem, it did become the official anthem of the Vice President to this very day.

In 1791 in between the composition of the music and the writing of the lyrics, when the City of Washington was assigned to a Federal District, it was named the District of Columbia.

In 1792, the first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States took place on October 12. The Society of St. Tammany, also known as the Columbian Order, commemorated the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing.

Around 1843, another unofficial nation anthem was composed entitled “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.” It sounded remarkably like “Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean” and I will leave it to the scholars to debate the relationship.

O Columbia! the gem of the ocean,
The home of the brave and the free,
The shrine of each patriot’s devotion,
A world offers homage to thee;
Thy mandates make heroes assemble,
When Liberty’s form stands in view;
Thy banners make tyranny tremble,
When borne by the red, white, and blue.
When borne by the red, white, and blue,
When borne by the red, white, and blue,
Thy banners make tyranny tremble,
When borne by the red, white and blue.

A presentation at the May 2019 conference of the National Maritime Historical Society (NMHS) and the North American Society for Oceanic History (NASOH) co-hosted by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, and the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center focused on precisely this image.

A Goddess of Our Own: Columbia and American Naval Hyper-Identity
Stephen N. Sanfilippo, Maine Maritime Academy

A new breed of sailor carried a new flag to the oceans and seaports of the world during the late 18th through mid-19th centuries. This new breed of sailor was the “Columbian Tar,” and he had a goddess of his own – – – “Columbia.”. This presentation analyzes the creation of an American enlightenment goddess, “Columbia,” as a contra-distinction to the overthrown “Britannia.” More than a nickname for the United States, or a poetic metaphor for America, “Columbia” was the divine embodiment of natural rights, constitutional liberties, the virtuous republic, and the forces that defended them. Placed into an ancient pagan setting, rather than one of American Protestant Christian “Providence,” “Columbia” proclaimed a special and uniquely endowed People. The frequent use of “Columbia” in naval and shore defense ballads and anthems of the Early Republic through the Civil War created a particular form of hyper-identity of the American naval sailor. Praised as “Columbian Tars,” this breed apart was the sons of the male god of war, Mars, and a female goddess, the American Athena, “Columbia.” Broadside ballads and formally composed naval anthems celebrated American victories on the high seas and in coastal defense against the French, the Barbary States, the British, and the Confederacy with such lines as “And ne’re shall the Sons of Columbia be slaves,” “Rejoice, Columbia’s Sons, Rejoice,” “Ye sons of Columbia, O hail the great day, which burst your tyrannical chain,” and “Columbia Tars are the true sons of Mars;” which will be performed by the presenter himself.

In 1896, Columbia College became Columbia University. One year later in moved uptown to its present location.

Japan makes her début under Columbia’s auspices

In 1899, Udo Kepper in the political cartoon entitled “Japan makes her debut under Columbia’s auspices” portrayed Japan, England, and America through female symbols along with Russia, Turkey, Italy, Austria, Spain, and France.  The continued use of Columbia reflects that the Statue of Liberty had not yet attained the iconic status it has today as a symbol of the United States.

However, the big event of the 1890s was not for Columbia but for Columbus. The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage in 1492 [yes, they were a year late!]. It was a celebration of huge proportions and known throughout the land.

I mention all these items to provide a context to the world Italian immigrants found when they first began arriving in the United States in significant numbers. From the capital of the country to the unofficial anthems of the country to the symbol of the country to a big extravaganza celebration, Italian immigrants who wanted to become part of the melting pot as Americans saw the place of importance Columbus had in their new country.

These Italians did not have the same option in becoming Americans as the Irish immigrants who also were not white when they arrived. The Irish linked themselves to the war for independence from Great Britain. While the Irish in America during the American Revolution did participate in it on the American side, it was the celebration of freedom from British rule that clearly resonated with them in the 19th century. In New York City, the Irish loved to celebrate the anniversary of Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783, when Britain finally pulled out after seven years of occupation. Of course, George M. Cohan’s 1904 version of Yankee Doodle Dandy strengthened the connection between the Irish and the American Revolution.

The Germans who also were not white when they arrived had the option of going back even further in time. The Germans in the 1890s were able to look back on the German settlement in and contribution to America beginning in the colonial era in the late 1600s. They could favorably compare their colonies to those in New England and elsewhere in the cause of freedom.

The Italians joined the Germans and the Irish in not being white when they arrived and went back even further in time to link themselves to the American experience: all the way to Columbus, a person they knew America already revered. Those efforts would take physical and calendric form.

Columbus Statue at Columbus Circle at Columbus Avenue (

In conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition, New York City erected a statue of Columbus at Columbus Circle at Columbus Avenue. A commission of Italian businessmen from around the United States contributed 60% of the funding needed to build the statue. The statue was constructed with funds raised by Il Progresso, a New York City-based Italian-language newspaper. (“FROM ITALIANS TO AMERICA: THE GREAT STATUE OF COLUMBUS TO ADORN NEW-YORK,” The New York Times, July 9, 1890.)

The Italian-Americans also promoted the creation of a holiday in honor of Columbus.

[T]he Knights of Columbus, an international Roman Catholic fraternal benefit society, lobbied state legislatures to declare October 12 a legal holiday. Colorado was the first state to do so on April 1, 1907. New York declared Columbus Day a holiday in 1909 and on October 12, 1909, New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes led a parade that included the crews of two Italian ships, several Italian-American societies, and legions of the Knights of Columbus. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Columbus Day (then celebrated October 12) a national holiday in 1934.

It should be noted that the day in various forms is recognized in other counties in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

These recap brings us to the controversy today over Columbus Day.

The efforts bring down Columbus led to some hyperbolic language in New York when now-Presidential-candidate Mayor Bill de Blasio created a commission to review the statues in the city. De Blasio, pols clash over historical statues symbolizing hate in NYC (Erin Durkin, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, August 22, 2017; As de Blasio mulls Columbus statue removal, Italian Americans lodge protest (GLORIA PAZMINO, Politico, August 24, 2017).

Here are some excerpts.

“It’s just outrageous and the line needs to be drawn,” said Assemblyman Ron Castorina (R-Staten Island). “It stands for the pride that Italian immigrants have for their contributions to America. To call it anything other than that is completely misguided,” he said. “This is part of a left wing agenda which attacks Columbus. They revise history to support a narrative that works for rebuking Columbus.”

Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) added in a letter to de Blasio and [Council President] Mark-Viverito that the planned task force had opened a “tremendous can of worms” and should not meddle with “a revered figure in Italian-American culture.” “Our past historical leaders are not without sin, nor are our current ones,” Borelli said, flanked by several officials sporting American and Italian flag lapel pins and at least one protester clad in an Italian flag sweatband, waving an Italian flag in the background. “We shouldn’t be foolhardy enough to judge people from so long ago with our modern eyes,” Borelli said. “If that’s the case then surely we are set to lose monuments and parks named after people like Andrew Jackson, like FDR, like Ulysses S. Grant.”

But Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) said Columbus should go, calling him “the biggest genocidal murderer the globe has ever seen.”

NYC could be a town without heroes if PC insanity wins out” Steve Cuozzo, New York Post, August 26, 2017.

As you can see from these comments and headlines, the issue of Columbus is very much connected to the culture wars that are currently dividing America. You almost get the impression that if Columbus had not sailed the ocean blue in 1492 that Europeans, smallpox, and genocide never would have occurred and that the United States would not even exist as a country since there would have been no one here to declare independence from England. Such ruminations also reveal that the issue is only partly the individual human being Christopher Columbus. It is a clash between the America noted in the above examples the America of Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States (1980).

What does all this mean about the fate of Columbus Day?

1.Italian-Americans are not a politically correct people. Therefore they can’t be disrespected and there is no need to be sensitive to their feelings (unless there are a lot of them in your political district).

2. The Italian-American goal to become part of the melting pot is politically incorrect. They should be striving to preserve their authenticity as a hyphen and not be absorbed into the vision of e pluribus unum.

3. Just as it is now illegal to dance to the music of Michael Jackson, laugh at a joke by Woody Allen, or watch anything involving a #MeToo person, so Columbus is to be cleansed from our midst. Therefore it is incumbent on Americans to purify the country of its sins and the stains on the social fabric.

As should be obvious, more than a single individual is involved here. The stakes are the entirety of American history and therefore of America itself.

In the next blog, let’s turn to the proposed alternative to Columbus Day and to what Indigenous Peoples’ Day means for American history.