Letter to the Editor: Columnist paints a poor picture of American Indians

By and


In his recent column on Columbus, “Columbus deserves to be honored” (Oct. 24), Andrew Kirk says that one of the two reasons he honors Columbus is because of that man’s character.

Ignoring the fact that Columbus and his men opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched the genocide of the American Indians (as pointed out by Professor Deen Chatterjee in his column “Historical accuracy and demands of morality” on Oct. 21), Kirk gives only one reason why Columbus was honorable: He defied tradition and logic to obey his God.

But what is so honorable about that?

Doesn’t history give us enough examples of misguided people who shun logic and compassion and do horrible things in the name of their God? Didn’t the radical extremists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center do so to “obey their God?”

Kirk’s other reason why he honors Columbus is that Columbus was the first man to “colonize” the New World, which eventually led to the founding of our republic, for which he is grateful.

Though the path leading to it was paved with genocide and slavery, Kirk points out that he wouldn’t stand by idly “if anyone tries to argue the existence of this republic hasn’t been a blessing to mankind.”

Nowhere in Chatterjee’s column on Columbus, as I recall, were any questions were raised regarding the great blessing this country has been to humankind. Thus, Kirk is arguing beside the point.

What Chatterjee did question was how the colonization took place. In response, Kirk’s logic is that the end justifies the means, regardless of how morally repugnant the means may be. This type of crass utilitarian argument flies in the face of all great moral teachings in history, including those espoused by Jesus, whom Kirk cites favorably.

Kirk boasts of historical accuracy, yet he makes the outrageous claim, without citing any evidence, that in the American Indian culture, genocide and slavery were acceptable behavior.

To lump together a diverse group of nearly 500 separate and autonomous peoples, tribes and nations stretched over thousands of miles is irresponsible.

Such gross generalization perpetuates the old cultural stereotype of ‘the Indian savage.’

It is obvious that Kirk has very little historical knowledge of American Indian cultures and that he has not read the numerous academic writings by great scholars who dispute these old stereotypes and show how they were used by the colonizers of America to establish control over “truth and knowledge” and “provoke and sanctify systematic warfare”-exactly what Kirk has done in his article.

Compared to the violent and confrontational religion the Europeans brought with them, the religion and culture of the American Indians, for the most part, were gentle and holistic. They had a highly evolved spirituality and democracy that, if put to practice, has much potential for global healing today.

American Indians seldom killed members of other tribes needlessly and many tribes were never into killing, which stands in stark contrast to their European counterparts at that time.

And they never practiced genocide. Slavery was very limited and practiced in some tribes only as rituals of warfare.

Moreover, they had an honor code regarding the treatment of women and children during war.

Columbus and his men didn’t have any such moral scruples.

Kirk states that any American Indian who believes Jesus Christ is God has Columbus to thank. Statements like this not only show Kirk’s moral insensitivity (and his lack of knowledge of Christianity), but they ignore the fact that the American Indians had their own complex and unique religious and moral beliefs that were profoundly insightful compared to the repressive and patriarchal religion that Columbus introduced to the New World.

Kirk is right, however, when he points out the progressive and liberating sexual rituals in some Indian tribes.

In this respect, they were far ahead of the European settlers who were pathologically prudish but who didn’t hesitate to commit widespread sexual violence against women.

Chatterjee was rather mild in his critique of Columbus. I would place Columbus in the rank of some of the most sinister characters in history who have shamed humanity. Even Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun showed more compassion and respect for the people they subjugated than what Columbus and his men did to the American Indians.

Donna Dinsdale-Abe

Senior, Anthropology