Columbus Day is a government holiday that needs to be done away with.
Depending on the state you live in, it is a state holiday as well. Less than half of the states in the U.S. still consider it a state holiday, but Utah is one of those states. This means that not only do mail-workers, bankers, and other federal government workers get today off, but schools are closed and all Utah state workers get a day off too. No one else gets the day off.
Other states have gone a more logical direction, declaring it Native American Day; a more politcly correct celebration. One I can embrace whole-heartedly. Columbus Day is just an embarrassing reminder that millions of people died because someone got lost.
In honor of Native American Day, I’d like to share an autobiography written by one of my ninth-grade Navajo students while I was teaching in Page, Arizona. I do not have a digital copy of the paper, so I cleaned up some spelling and punctuation issues (what do you expect from a ninth grade kid, anyway?). Any words I changed are entered in brackets and I’ve added some photos and videos. Otherwise I am copying it exactly as written by my student.
The date on this paper is December 12, 2007.
I hope you’ll be as impressed as I was.
[I was born] in 1991 in Page, on April 3. I basically live a regular rez life–what people be calling it around here. We have our own slang words, our own accent, our problems in the Navajo place. It’s the typical rez: old hogan, old house, broke down cars. In other words–ghetto.
The rez is just like the streets. People die, drama, fights, gangs and drugs. Poverty, violence, struggle and the poor mostly reside on our reservation. Tons of people live without running water and electricity, but we still reside in an old-way society with a little urban in it. The good thing is that Navajos still speak their native language and know their culture and still believe in the old ways. Our mothers and fathers still talk to us in our tongue and they want us to learn to pass [it] on.
Then the bad thing is that no one ever quits getting high once they get into it. To this day my homies still come around drunk asking me to drink or to get high. Then I have to live with that every day and don’t get drunk or high.
[. . .] my father ran out on me when I was born and I don’t really know the story about that. I just heard that he was a drunk and spent most of his money on alcohol. Right now I have two little brothers, two little sisters and one older sister. Ever since, I’ve lived with my grandparents, six of my uncles, four of my [aunts] and my grandparents.
I had always seen drugs around. Ever since I was the age of five, I realized what it was and what it did. My uncles were alcoholics and my aunts used to party a lot when I was a kid, so I always saw it. I guess it was normal to see drugs around, to know it killed some of m relatives and sent my uncles to do time in the pen. My grand parents always talk to me not to do drugs but there was no use; it was an every night thing. I always [saw] my uncles fight because they were drunk. My oldest uncle named John is locked up now; and he did eight years and is coming back soon.
Well as I got older, I started to get into drugs and I used it and abused it. At the age thirteen I started drinking, getting drunk and high. I started to drop out of school an all I did was get high and drunk. I had to go to summer school to pass my grade. I kept on getting high and that’s all I thought life was all about, but I was wrong.
I did stress about myself and why I didn’t have a dad. I was stressing about how it would have been if he would be around. In reality, I found out that it was a stupid reason and he was a stranger in my life, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
As I got older I kind of got tired of partying because I was doing it every night. I tried to stop but peer pressure sucks, and my friends keep persuading me, saying “we’re going to have a good time.” Then I find myself drunk with my friends again. Also I’d find myself with a pipe in my hand, trying to catch a high. I guess I was really addicted for a while. Then all of a sudden I find myself locked up in a juvenile facility where I was locked up for criminal damage and minor consumption. The police also identified me as a Crip gang member, which I had started with my friends.
We named our gang, our clique, Native Crips, also known as NC, behind the Warrior Society in the prison system . When I started the gang I just told my friends we should start a group so we could back each other up and watch one anothers’ backs out of it because w had problems with the Bloods, AKA BitterSpring Bloods. We had problems with them. We always did. Therefore, they didn’t like us, we don’t like them.
As we started to get known, hangin’ around in a group wearing our blue colored bandanas, I honestly never thought the cops would ever get involved with our so-called gang. As we started to drink, we got arrested and we threw signs in the cops’ faces. And they knew. Ever since then, they [could] also identify the bloods, so they knew we had problems.
As I was saying, when I got locked up, I didn’t like it. I started thinking about my life and if I were going to continue what I was doing. I would end up dead or in prison. I knew that, and I looked and thought about my family members that were locked up or that died because of drugs and what it does to you. So when I got released, the judge gave me a year of probation and told me not to hand out with my friends because we were known as The Crips. Then I thought deeply; if I continue this behavior with the gangs, I wouldn’t go nowhere in life. I thought if the gangs keep growing, that people’s lives are going to end because of colors, and I don’t want that for my people. Especially the next generation.
I don’t remeber the name of the student, but I hope that he meant what he said about getting out and getting clean. It’s not an easy thing to do when you live on the Rez. Especially since the rez life is so hard and leaving it means leaving your identity as a part of the Navajo culture.
When I was in college, I minored in geography. I learned about the American holocaust from a class on the geography of American history. The video below says that over 19 million people died “according to conservative estimates.” I remember reading estimates closer to 80 million, counting both continents (Donald W. Meinig, The Shaping of America, 1986). This video explains what I am talking about. It’s half an hour long, but well worth the time.