Politics & Policy

Indigenous Peoples’ Day Is Offensive to Indigenous People

If you want honor American Indians, then honor an American Indian.

It was either Francis Parkman or Frederick Jackson Turner or the composer of the theme from F Troop who first laid down an essential truth about the American experience: In the end, Paleface and Redskin both turn chicken.

Now the same white male power structure that made Black History Month the shortest month in the calendar and sabotaged the Susan B. Anthony dollar by making it indistinguishable from a quarter is at it again. And the oppression is coming from the supposedly sympathetic, progressive side: The city of Seattle, Washington, has designated an “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” on the second Monday of October — a day already reserved for the federal Columbus Day holiday.

Seattle’s City Council unanimously passed the proposal for a non-official city holiday earlier this week. Mayor Ed Murray will sign Indigenous Peoples’ Day into law Monday, and he noted to local media that the day is only an homage that has no municipal weight (no parking relief). The legislation “will honor local Native-American tribes,” the Seattle Times reports. Murray claims Indigenous Peoples’ Day will “add new significance to the date without replacing the Columbus Day tradition,” according to the paper.

Of course, to displace Columbus Day you would actually have to believe in something: the perfectly defensible point that the arrival of late-medieval Europeans in the Americas was a catastrophe for native inhabitants so awful that it should not be celebrated. But making that decision would require a point of view, and half-assed gestures like Seattle’s are the negation of even the idea of having a point of view.

The emptiness of the gesture is there right in the name of the day: It’s not Tecumseh Day or Ira Hayes Day or Sacagawea Day or Russell Means Day. Those were actual people with actual legacies. By honoring them or not honoring them you are making a judgment about what their reputations mean. You are, in the jargon of post-colonial theory, granting them agency. That’s why “Martin Luther King Day” has a resonance that “Black People Day” would not.

No sooner said than done, local Italian Americans are claiming offense on behalf of 250,000 Seattleites of Italian descent. But even they can’t get beyond a general condemnation of “political correctness” to the real Genoa-is-more-than-just-a-salami heart of the matter. “We empathize with the death and destruction of the Native Americans,” gun-control activist Ralph Fascitelli told reporters Thursday during a conference at an Italian restaurant. And that is pretty much the extent of what Indigenous Peoples’ Day will honor — a vague offense against a blob of people so undifferentiated we can’t even bother to single out any one of them. The saddest part of the I.P.D. controversy is that it reminds us that this kind of sleepyheaded nod of half-attention has already been enshrined at the federal level. In October 2008, at the height of the financial market crash, President Bush took time out to sign Congressman Joe Baca’s (D., California) “Native American Heritage Day Act of 2008,” which set a holiday for the day after Thanksgiving. It’s not clear what part of the heritage we’re honoring, or even if the holiday continued after 2008, because the act could have been more fairly titled the “We Don’t Really Care Act.”

Could it be that the Emerald City just doesn’t have candidates worth a day of celebration? The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the current population of the overwhelmingly white city at 652,405, with American Indians and Alaska Natives making up just 0.8 percent of the total. Still, that’s 5,200 people. Couldn’t Murray just give some local Indian the key to the city?

Maybe it would be easier if there were a particular Indian the city could laud, perhaps a revered peacemaker steeped in both history and myth, a chief even, with a name like Chief . . .  Seattle. No, that would be too easy.

— Tim Cavanaugh is news editor of National Review Online. Follow him onTwitter and Facebook.

Most Popular

White House

Trump and the ‘Racist Tweets’

What does “racist” even mean anymore? Racism is the headline on President Trump’s Sunday tweets -- the media-Democrat complex assiduously describes them as “racist tweets” as if that were a fact rather than a trope. I don’t think they were racist; I think they were abjectly stupid. Like many ... Read More
White House

The Trump Steamroller

As we settle into high summer and the period of maximum difficulty in finding anything to fill in hours of television news, especially 24/7 news television, two well-established political trends are emerging in this pre-electoral period: The president’s opponents continue to dig themselves into foxholes that ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated

Beto O’Rourke, the losing Texas Senate candidate who bootstrapped his way into becoming a losing presidential candidate, had a message for refugees who had come to America: Your new country is a hellhole. The former congressman told a roundtable of refugees and immigrants in Nashville, Tenn., last week: ... Read More

We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team

For the first time in my life, I did not root for an American team. Whatever the sport, I have always rooted American. And if those who called in to my radio show were representative of my audience, many millions of Americans made the same sad choice. It takes a lot for people like me not to root for an ... Read More

The ‘Squad’ Gives a Gift to Donald Trump

On Sunday, Donald Trump gave the Democrats a gift -- comments that indicate he thinks native-born congresswomen he detests should “go back” to the countries of their ancestors. On Monday, the four congresswomen handed Trump a gift in return, managing to respond to the president’s insults in some of the most ... Read More