Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reconsidering Columbus Day

I don't remember ever much celebrating Columbus Day as a child. I thought of it as our Italian neighbors' ethnic festival: nice for them, good food, no particular content though I think we got off school.

The 500 year anniversary in 1992 was seized by indigenous people to make the always relevant point that what looked like discovery to Europeans meant genocide for the people already here.

At the last Episcopal Church General Convention in 2009 where I worked for LGBT inclusion, one of the more thought-provoking resolutions was one putting the denomination on record as repudiating "the Doctrine of Discovery." The existence of such a thing was news to me, though it took only an instant of reflection to get the idea. Apparently a succession of 15th century popes assured European rulers that, if their exploring minions found a new land, their Christian religion entitled them to claim dominion over it -- and by extension over its inhabitants. The Anglican Church of Canada has recently also renounced this historical assertion.

The Doctrine of Discovery was a principle of charters and acts developed by colonizing Western societies more than 500 years ago.

It begins with “the very simple idea in the Western tradition that is if you discover [a] place, you have control and ownership over that place,” said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald speaking to the resolution.

I am glad to see Christian churches reflecting on and drawing back from our unconsidered arrogance that has justified the dispossession and sometimes extermination of so many peoples.

But I also wonder whether consumer societies couldn't use the Columbus anniversary to delve more deeply into our accustomed paradigms. Doesn't our sense of the good life begin and too frequently end with the almost instinctive assertion: See, Want, MINE? This makes the economy work (when we can afford it).

But is endless acquisition and "getting mine" any way to live? Ultimately, that's the subject of Columbus Day, for me.

H/t to The Lead for reminding me of the Doctrine of Discovery repudiation.

1 comment:

emily shorette said...
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