This week there was a holiday that had a new name in Virginia where I live. For the first time, the second Monday in October was called Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. The first video posted below is the announcement of this change by Governor Northam. It seems especially appropriate that the change came this year of increasing consciousness about our nation’s legacy of systemic racism and white supremacy. This is an opportunity to learn about the “Doctrine of Discovery” which set the foundation for how European nations claimed possession of lands already inhabited by indigenous people who were then systematically displaced, enslaved, and/or killed. This is what it really meant for Columbus to “discover” America as opposed to the benign myths most of us were taught beginning with the phrase, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” The legacy of “discovery” became enshrined in US law in the 1823 Supreme Court case Johnson v. McIntosh in which it was decided that ownership of land was based on the colonial power that “discovered” it while indigenous people would be considered as “occupants” who were subject to the land “owners.” As recently as the 2005 case of Sherrill v. Oneida this principle was upheld. The second video posted below features a talk by Mark Charles who is a Native American writer and teacher who explains the roots and legacy of the destructive doctrine of discovery. In facing this difficult and tragic history, he lifts up a hopeful way forward through a proposed process similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa, Rwanda, and Canada. The video is about 17 minutes long but is well worth your time. So from now on both personally and as a citizen of Virginia, I will commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day. With the new name comes a new spirit of lament and repentance rather than a spirit of conquest and domination. As followers of Jesus, we know that repentance is the way to new life both individually and for our society.
Thank you for reading this week’s reflection. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Rev. Jim Melson, Cornelius Corps Director