What to Do with Columbus Day

I wonder if the sovereignty of tribal nations is part of the Democratic Party’s platform. I am curious mainly after looking at presidential proclamations about Columbus Day. In his 2015 speech, President Obama mentioned working harder to establish and protect tribal sovereignty. I had no idea that native American reservations function (or at least ideally) directly in relation to the federal government and not with states. The reason has to do with trying to recognize their existence and history before the founding of the United States. They were nations before, so the creation of the United States should not change that.

Imagine though, if you tried to make an analogy between tribal sovereignty and national sovereignty. There might be something in there for pondering the status of migrants. (Wikipedia haters, beware):

In Iron Crow v. Oglala Sioux Tribe, the United States Supreme Court concluded that two Oglala Sioux defendants convicted of adultery under tribal laws, and another challenging a tax from the tribe, were not exempted from the tribal justice system because they had been granted U.S. citizenship. It found that tribes “still possess their inherent sovereignty excepting only when it has been specifically taken from them by treaty or Congressional Act”. This means American Indians do not have exactly the same rights of citizenship as other American citizens. The court cited case law from a pre-1924 case that said, “when Indians are prepared to exercise the privileges and bear the burdens of” sui iuris, i.e. of one’s own right and not under the power of someone else, “the tribal relation may be dissolved and the national guardianship brought to an end, but it rests with Congress to determine when and how this shall be done, and whether the emancipation shall be complete or only partial” (U.S. v. Nice, 1916). The court further determined, based on the earlier Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock case, that “It is thoroughly established that Congress has plenary authority over Indians.” The court held that, “the granting of citizenship in itself did not destroy … jurisdiction of the Indian tribal courts and … there was no intention on the part of Congress to do so.” The adultery conviction and the power of tribal courts were upheld.

Heck, there might even be some relevance for church power and two kingdoms, not to mention a little push back for Representative Robert O’Rourke and his comments about religious institutions’ tax status.

Columbus Day may even provide perspective on what to do with historical monuments. The celebration of Columbus Day started in part out of a response to the lynching of Italian Americans in New Orleans, one year before the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. Can you try to protect people who suffered discrimination by celebrating someone from that group who it turns out inflicted suffering on a minority group? If the historical context for the creation of a monument is important for assessing a statue, doesn’t that give some protection for Columbus statues and the holiday?

Figuring out what to do with Latinos and Hispanics in all this, since it was the Spanish monarchy that underwrote the Italian explorer, is above my paygrade.

One last wrinkle: is it a form of bigotry to think of the mafia when you consider Italian-American identity? It may be, but organized criminals have inspired some of the greatest moving pictures on earth. Don’t forget, though, that other ethnic groups were involved in organized crime.

For Italian vs. Irish mobsters, with a dash of Jewish crime, see Miller’s Crossing.

For Jewish gangsters, see Liberty Heights.

And for Greek, Polish, and African-American gangsters (and boy were they organized), there is always The Wire.

Where Do You Stop?

If you object to the Confederate Flag, why not to Alabama’s and Florida’s. If you notice the design, you have a diagonal cross similar to the Scottish flag, but with a white background and maroon bars. Historians of Florida are currently debating whether the Florida flag owes its features to the Confederate one. But how can you not see a resemblance between the banner of the Spanish empire and the Florida flag (or Alabama)? And how can you not remember that Florida’s European roots go back to the Spanish Empire, not to snow-birds from the Northeast?

And if the Confederate Flag has problems because of white supremacy, imagine the difficulty for Europeans who followed in the trail of the Spanish to Florida and the southeast (where the PCA hatched). Here is how Alan Taylor describes one of the Spanish conquistadors:

During the years 1539-43, Vaca’s report inspired two great conquistador expeditions northward. From Cuba, Hernando de Soto led the first to Florida and through what is now the American southeast. From Mexico, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado marched the second expedition into and across the American southwest to the Great Plains. Although officially instructed to practice restrain, Soto and Coronado instead unleashed waves of violence, destruction, and disease that devastated the native peoples in their way. . . .

Beginning in the spring of 1539, Soto led six hundred men on a violent rampage through the carefully cultivated and densely populated heartland of the Mississippian culture. The conquistadores traversed present-day Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and east Texas. . . . When faced with the slightest resistance, Soto employed terror tactics to intimidate the survivors. Some Indians suffered the loss of a nose or a hand; others were thrown to the war dogs or burned alive. Archaeologists excavating the sites of villages visited by Soto have found many Indian skeletons scarred by steel weapons. American Colonies, 72

I bring this up not to make life difficult for Florida Seminole fans (but if you’re worried about the mascot of the NFL franchise in the nation’s capital. . .) but to remind those in pursuit of racism within the PCA that they need to be careful. When a generation from now someone finds out that the folks who need to bring a 92-year old man to ecclesiastical justice for racism (even while likely celebrating the forgiveness recommended by Charleston AME church members) — when future church officers discover that the anti-racists were soft on the parts of American history and culture that brought such devastation to native Americans, will their ministry also be compromised? When they find out that ministers in the PCA who opposed racism graduated from the University of Florida and the University of Alabama and did nothing to protest the heritage of those states which included a ruthless treatment of native populations which made slavery look civilized, what will their verdict be and will today’s generation be brought up on charges?

(Oh, by the way, making these matters public via social media is not exactly the Matthew 18 model of calling for repentance and may open you up to civil proceedings. Old Life aphorism of the day: How do you know someone is self-righteous? When the rules don’t apply to them.)

If these accusers don’t stop, they will be yet the latest example of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Earth’s Holocaust,” which recounts the absurd lengths to which reformers go to arrive at a perfect society or institution, so absurd that activists forget to look in the mirror because they threw it into the fire:

“What but the human heart itself?” said the dark-visaged stranger, with a portentous grin. “And, unless they hit upon some method of purifying that foul cavern, forth from it will reissue all the shapes of wrong and misery—the same old shapes or worse ones—which they have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes. I have stood by this livelong night and laughed in my sleeve at the whole business. O, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!”

This brief conversation supplied me with a theme for lengthened thought. How sad a truth, if true it were, that man’s age-long endeavor for perfection had served only to render him the mockery of the evil principle, from the fatal circumstance of an error at the very root of the matter! The heart, the heart, there was the little yet boundless sphere wherein existed the original wrong of which the crime and misery of this outward world were merely types. Purify that inward sphere, and the many shapes of evil that haunt the outward, and which now seem almost our only realities, will turn to shadowy phantoms and vanish of their own accord; but if we go no deeper than the intellect, and strive, with merely that feeble instrument, to discern and rectify what is wrong, our whole accomplishment will be a dream, so unsubstantial that it matters little whether the bonfire, which I have so faithfully described, were what we choose to call a real event and a flame that would scorch the finger, or only a phosphoric radiance and a parable of my own brain.