Today is Indigenous People’s Day and National Coming Out Day. What these two groups share is decades of harsh treatment or damaging neglect by the dominant culture in this country, so I celebrate their concurrence this year. For a long time, I refused to acknowledge October 11th as “Columbus Day,” though currently I just choose to focus elsewhere. For those to whom the older designation is important, I extend my good wishes for a happy observance. When colleagues and I began wanting to teach books by and about women in our department, some of my male colleagues told me they worried that if people like Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen were added to the curriculum, people like Charles Dickens and Joseph Fielding would be dropped from it. Because some of these men were not hopeless sexists, I wanted to ease their anxieties while remaining firm about including the writers they and their predecessors had ignored or slighted. At some point, I had a flashing idea that gave me me a graphic objective correlative for what we feminist scholars were about and what we wanted to do to what was taught in our institutions of higher learning.
I told them that we did not want to take books by the likes of Dickens and Fielding off of bookshelves; rather we wanted to build bigger bookcases. This is how I feel about October 11th today. No longer am I able to “celebrate” Columbus because he believed he was discovering a vacant land when all around him were hundreds of sovereign tribes with highly developed cultures and very long histories of living in this part of the known world. He also took back to Spain “souvenirs” from what he thought of as a vacant land, some of which were human beings, not just beads and feathers. My naming today “Indigenous People’s Day” seeks to broaden and deepen our understanding of who has been part of this country for as long as it has existed.
So I accept no mail service or bank transactions or government offices answering their telephones because I am thinking of all the Native peoples and lesbian and gay peoples who have stood up to powers that preferred us to stay hidden or silent or at least obedient. And I’m relishing all the marvelous novels and poems and plays written by Native peoples and lesbian and gay peoples that are finally being recognized and taken into the light. And, finally, I am feeling grateful to all the Native peoples and lesbian and gay peoples who have preceded me and endured what the dominant culture has done to them without losing heart and hope. They have persisted so that I may breathe a little more easily. I thank them all.