Columbus Day generates new discussion

The “Discovering the Lost Columbus,” was the name of the event, but getting down to the real Christopher Columbus was just the tip of the iceberg at the presentation hosted yesterday by Fresno State’s First Nations club in McLane Hall 121.

Instead of recognizing the historical significance of the famed explorer and the enormous acclaim Columbus has gained through the ages, First Nations celebrated the day with the music and the dancing of the inhabitants that were here before Columbus arrived. Afterwards, they presented a film that provided an indigenous perspective not only about Columbus Day, but also about the negative societal effects that colonialism has had on Native Americans.

“Giving all that credit to this number 1492 and Christopher Columbus is a misnomer,” Hector Cerda, who coordinated the event, said. “There’s so many other things that contributed to who we are as a nation.”

A local flutist, Martín Gonzalez, opened up the presentation with soothing melodies set to stories in Native American tradition while John Deanda III, in full regalia, danced in time to the rhythmic chants of his Siletz tribal ancestry.

The film, “The Canary Effect,” produced and directed by filmmakers Yellow Thunder Woman and Robin Davey in 2006, centered on the subjugation of Native Americans since the time Columbus arrived in the New World more than 500 years ago.

The film was a best documentary nominee at both the Red Bank International Film Festival and the American Indian Film Institute Awards. It also won the Stanley Kubrick Award for Innovative Film Making and was screened at many other notable venues.

The documentary followed a chronological pattern of brutality and marginalization that was forced upon Native Americans through the United States’ policies and the general ignorance of their plight even today.

Troy Johnson, professor of American Indian Studies at California State University, Long Beach, discussed how the English offered bounty for Indian scalps at the beginning of the 18th century, a policy that continued for well over a hundred years.

Ward Churchill, then professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, talked about an equally demeaning policy where doctors would randomly sterilize American Indian women to prevent them from proliferating what they considered to be an inferior race.

Problems persist even today for many Native American tribes, according to the film, problems that are not solved, as some believe, by the establishment of popular gaming casinos.

The film depicted many policy makers such as Sen. John McCain and President George Bush as seeming to be unaware and unaffected by the degradation that is occurring in reservations. Suicide and alcoholism were just a few of the plagues the film mentioned that prevent progress in these areas that scarcely receive any assistance at all.

The film is unlike some minority groups and explained how Native American customs are mocked and ridiculed in society, with racial slurs being used as mascots and ethnic characteristics being reduced to gags for the masses.

The film roused a lively discussion for more than 20 in attendance. A few spoke of their own experiences of racial oppression.

“We’re native but we’re told never to say it,” said Maria Aguilar, who was often punished as a child for sharing her Native American language at school. “That’s why I tell my kids ‘whenever you see something wrong, speak up.’”

Others offered possible solutions to some of the widespread problems presented in the film.

“Someone needs to go back and reread history,” Jessie Hernandez said. “We’re scared to go out and help [indigenous people] because we don’t want to know what happened.”

In April, First Nations will be hosting their annual Pow Wow which will feature the traditional dances of several different native backgrounds. Among them will be the Aztec Dance Group, a university organization that recently branched from First Nations.

“People who have been here about 10 generations may say, ‘Oh, well, I’m Native American, and there’s a lot of confusion that goes on there,” First Nations President Audra Mewbourn, said. “So what we do is we call ourselves the first nations because we were the first nations here.”

Today, First Nations will be helping the M.E.Ch.A. club with their own alternative Columbus celebration, honoring Latino and Central America culture and history.

Their event “Resist and Exist” will take place in theSatellite Student Union at 6 p.m.

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