“As a descendant of the first indigenous people that contacted Columbus and suffered the ravages of colonialism in America, I am concerned that the other brother peoples today are suffering. Although it was a historic moment, its repercussions today are emulated by abusive governments and unscrupulous investors ”. These are the words of a member of the Borikua Taíno indigenous people.
On October 12, 1492, the, by then, dying expedition of Christopher Columbus, arrived at an island in the Bahamas called Guanahani by its indigenous inhabitants (the Tainos), a name that the Spanish conquerors completely ignored to rename it San Salvador. The longest genocide in history had just begun. More than five centuries later, in light of the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlán, on August 13 of this year, indigenous Zapatista activists traveled 47 days by boat from Mexico to Spain to hold a conquer in reverse. Instead of demanding the repatriation of gold embedded in European churches or demanding forgiveness for the crimes of colonialism, the Zapatista movement has invaded peaceably Europe (they started in Vienna, passed through Madrid, this week they were in Berlin) to promote dialogue and reaffirm their resistance to the continuing threats of global colonialism and capitalism on indigenous peoples.
But what do these last five centuries really mean for the indigenous peoples of America? The arrival of Columbus on the American continent is not so much the emergence of a Hispanidad (unreal and invented) that represents a few and to which too many cling, but rather the beginning of a history of extermination due to imported diseases against which indigenous peoples They had no immunity, and because of the violence, slavery, looting, theft of land and resources that continues to this day.
It is estimated that only around 1600, around 90% of the population had died as a result of the arrival of the Spanish to the American continent And yet, every October 12, this historical event is celebrated in Spain surrounded by the glorious aura of Hispanidad and faced with the bewilderment of the indigenous peoples, descendants of the survivors and an increasing part of the world population.
However, thanks to the voices of thousands of indigenous peoples and their allies, the celebration of this day is increasingly in decline. Many Latin American countries have chosen to rename the holiday as the day of cultures, of indigenous resistance, of native peoples, of indigenous peoples, or of the discovery of two worlds. And in some states of the United States it has been decided to eliminate its celebration entirely. In Spain, the decolonization movement grows stronger every October 12 under the slogan “Nothing to Celebrate” and the peaceful demonstration that takes place in Madrid _ at the same time as the military display of post-imperial pride_, has more each year. adepts.
“[La llegada de Colón a América] it is also the beginning of the resistance of all our native peoples who have wanted to eradicate from the world by looting, decimating, murdering, raping, indoctrinating, racializing and dividing with arbitrary borders and fictitious toxic nationalisms “. These are the words of a member of the Nahua people, in Mexico.
This apology for white supremacy only perpetuates a colonial system that endangers the survival of hundreds of indigenous peoples today.
But what exactly is celebrated in Spain? The discovery of America or the arrival of another European mores to the shores of a widely inhabited continent? The union of cultures or the destruction of thousands of languages, traditions and worldviews? The invented concept of Hispanidad or nationalist pride in an imperial past?
It is these and other myths, promoted especially during the Franco regime, that have configured a pink legend about the colonial era in America that has deeply penetrated Spanish society: the absurd comparison of which colonizing model was the “least bad” (the numerous deaths resulting from slavery, forced labor and massacres are not excusable by any comparison), the inability to look at the past with the eyes of the present (isn’t the concept of Hispanidad a positive historical review of centuries of colonization?), that the Spaniards saved many indigenous people from the Inca and Aztec imperialist yokes (again, centuries of violence are no salvation) or that European culture nourished pre-Columbian cultures (rather, it destroyed worldviews, ancestral knowledge and advances unknown until then in Europe, at the same time that American products such as potatoes saved Europe from the periodic famines of the Middle Ages).
This apology for white supremacy only perpetuates a colonial system that threatens the survival of hundreds of indigenous peoples today. For many, the arrival of Columbus in America represents the beginning of a genocide that continues to this day. In the NGO Survival International we have been fighting for more than 50 years together with indigenous peoples so that history does not continue to repeat itself. Unfortunately, today there are many examples of this racist, colonial and genocidal perpetuation.
In Paraguay, uncontacted Ayoreos they live in constant flight, escaping from the bulldozers of the ranchers who destroy their lands. In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has declared war on uncontacted indigenous peoples. If your government doesn’t renew ordinances that protect your lands from loggers, miners, and other invaders, entire towns could be wiped out. In Peru, as long as their lands are not legally demarcated and protected, uncontacted indigenous peoples will remain under the constant threat from extractive industries and invaders.
For uncontacted indigenous peoples, COVID-19 is the latest of the many imported diseases that threaten their lives. Their survival is a matter of morality and justice. They are an essential part of human diversity, but also the defense of their rights is crucial to fight against the loss of biodiversity, on which we all depend. Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of nature.
These tragedies are criminal and arise from the racism perpetuated by a colonial society still in force and under the narrative of Hispanidad. “Celebrate it [el genocidio] it is to give weapons so that they continue to subdue us, so that they continue to humiliate us, ”according to Xóchitl, a Chichimeca / Zapotec.
It is time for the Spanish State to go from taking pride in a genocidal and plundering past, to taking pride in being a State of the present, inclusive, in which celebrations come from acknowledging the mistakes of the past and in which public, physical and symbolic, be plural, do not humiliate, setting an example of diversity and compassion, celebrating the resistance of indigenous peoples, and not their genocide.
We must do so to prevent history from repeating itself: for indigenous peoples, for nature and for all humanity.