For Native peoples, Columbus Day is not a typical holiday. We don’t celebrate 500 years of being dominated, exploited, enslaved and nearly exterminated by Europeans. But we do celebrate our survival.

Diana King is an enrolled member of the White Earth Indian Nation in northern Minnesota. For the past 12 years, she has taught at the Waubun High School, which is located on a reservation.

“Columbus Day is a chance to teach about who we once were, what has become of us since Europeans arrived on our shores and who we are today — a struggling but surviving people,” King says.

Each October, King creates a bulletin board that illustrates a rich display of indigenous life on the American continents circa 1492.

“One of my favorite displays is on the diversity of food Native peoples harvested,” she says. “From corn, coffee and squash, our foods are now on the world’s dinner tables. Columbus and other ‘explorers’ may have taken our foods and other resources, but I like to look at it as a contribution from indigenous people.”

King works closely with teachers at the school, especially in the area of history.

“I want teachers to teach more about Indian civilization just like they do with Egyptian or European history,” she says. “Our Native history did not begin with Christopher Columbus.”

And King also works with teachers on ways to integrate Ojibwe Indian cultural values in their curriculum.

“Even though 70 percent of our students are Native, most of our teachers are non-Indian,” she says. “When I started here there were no Ojibwe language classes and there was no after-school program for Native students. Working with teachers to help educate them about our students about their culture and the issues they face living on the reservation is critical to promoting success.”

King is quick to point out that one of the most devastating realities about living in a post-colonial world is the shame that has been forced on American Indians.

“When students learn about how advanced our cultures once were, they get a great feeling of pride,” she says. “It validates them. And they also realize their culture is important to the world.”

Survival is a key word in King’s efforts to take advantage of the annual recognition of Columbus.

“We should have been wiped out,” she says. “It’s a miracle Native people still exist. I have never liked the word ‘conquered.’ We are still here after 500 years. And maybe every time Columbus Day comes around, we should rethink who the real heroes are: the explorer or the survivors?”

The answer depends on who is writing the story. More and more Native people, like Diana King, insist on writing our own, especially on Columbus Day.

Mark Anthony Rolo is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He teaches at the White Earth Tribal and Community College and is the author of the memoir, “My Mother Is Now Earth.” He can be reached at

You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.


I'm grateful to be reading this posting on October 12th, traditionally called Columbus Day. When will we have an Indigenous Peoples Day?

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project