09 October 2017

Indigenous Peoples' Day

It is officially Indigenous Peoples' Day in Denver. (Accompanied by a snow storm and freezing temperatures following a 75 degree and sunny day yesterday.)

Some thoughts:

* Indigenous Peoples' Day was invented as a substitute for Columbus Day.

* Columbus Day, in turn, was an effort of the Knights of Columbus and Italian-Americans, generally, then a comparatively young and disadvantaged immigrant population and minority Roman Catholic religious population, to gain a focus for their "tribes." Since then, white Roman Catholics, generally, and Italian-Americans, in particular, have increasingly come to identify as white Americans rather than identifying strongly with their particular national origin, as they have assimilated over roughly a hundred years since the main wave of Italian immigration to the United States. 

* The indigenous population of the Americas collapsed more than 90% following the arrival of Columbus in 1492 CE, as a proximate result of the arrival of Columbus and his crew. 

* Most of that decline was due to the arrival of Old World diseases that people in the New World did not have resistance to, a result that no one could have anticipated at the time and that Columbus, his crew, and subsequent waves of Old World colonists did not fully understand. In what would become Mexico, the primary cause determined from examining bodies in mass graves dug when the population was collapsing, was a virulent strain of salmonella. In North America, a couple of centuries later, small pox was the main culprit. The germ theory of disease would not be widely accepted for centuries and wouldn't even be proposed for another half a century.

* There was a spread of new diseases from the New World to the Old World, most notably, syphilis, which Columbus's crew brought back to Europe with them. But, it wasn't proportionate.

* This isn't to say that early European visitors to the New World treated the indigenous population well or in good faith. They leveraged the advantage they obtained from massive disease deaths to conquer indigenous populations. The harm caused by forced relocation and loss of land was far worse than the actual battle deaths in the "Indian Wars" as the U.S. military defines them.

* It is hard to argue that what indigenous people in the United States have ended up with ca. 2017, is a raw deal.

* This has left a lot of distrust, with the consequence that Native American populations in the U.S. have largely refused to cooperate with efforts to document their populations and heritage with DNA tests of contemporary populations and with ancient DNA, in a loss to science that can't fully be restored if Native American populations embrace these efforts to discern their heritage later on.

* Some of the most despised efforts, like forcible boarding schools for Native American populations designed to assimilate them into modern U.S. culture, erased cultural ties and destroyed families, while simultaneously producing the greatest levels of conventional socio-economic success for their alumni compared to people who grew up in reservations.

* Historically, the Native American criminal justice system has erred on the side of under enforcement of Indian on Indian crime, rather than by being too harsh.

* Sovereignty hasn't been used in a very economically advantageous manner by Indian Nations with reservations. Casino gambling, tax dodges and acceptance of toxic and nuclear waste dumping sites have been some of the main economic uses to which it has been put. Reservations are often too small, to poor in land quality, and too removed from the traditional territories of their inhabitants, to make continued use of traditional subsistence living viable economically.

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