Cultural gold

The DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice sponsored a recent panel on the Quincentennial Anniversary of Columbus’ so-called discovery to open a discourse on the celebration and on the legacy of the European conquest of this hemisphere.

For too long the United States has neglected its responsibility to look honestly at its collective past and the influence this often bloody history bears on the present day. Hopefully, the Sept. 15 discussion will mark the first of many on this campus about not only Columbus and our common histories but also on our collective future.

In printing a story on the event and writing an editorial about the issues it raised, The Northern Star serves this goal. Unfortunately, the editorial distorted the focus of the panel members’ speeches.

Its authors claimed erroneously that “the panel members were pretty convinced Columbus’ journey should never have been made.” Perhaps the distortion results from the Star’s failure to send a reporter to cover the event directly, instead depending on one of our groups’ members to submit a summary of it.

If the panel reached any conclusion, it was that 1992 should serve as a moment for, as panelist James Yellowbank said, “America to discover America.” There’s gold here, he said, but not the kind the Europeans sought. We can only discover it by recognizing one another, ourselves and our relationship with the land.

The editorial’s authors later remarked that the Europeans brought “ideas like political equality, Christianity and democracy.” This assumes none of those who were already here had viable political systems based on equality, democracy and rich religious traditions.

Mike Fraga’s speech, which the Star misrepresents as centering on humiliation, dealt primarily with religious traditions. He pointed out that they have been dismissed, neglected, and oppressed because they are the ways of “primitives”.

They suggest the people that had lived here successfully for tens of thousands of years needed to be brought a viable way of life. This fails to appreciate other groups’ ways of life.

The events of next year should remind us, as the Star notes, of all the positive aspects of modern North America civilization. Next year should also be used as a time to begin to appreciate all this continent’s diversity, commonality and its future prospects for the world free of exploitation, bigotry and self-inflicted cultural amnesia.

Jeff Herbst