1492-1992: 500 years of Indian resistance

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The “conquerors” are celebrating “discovery” of a “new world”!

Adding insult to genocide, they are bombarding the Western Hemisphere with commemorations of the 500-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus stumbling on the Americas.

But there is cause for celebration: a history of five centuries of resistance, and a future that will recreate the best of the hemisphere’s pre-Columbian past.

Capitalism’s roots in racism. Columbus’ travels, backed by Spain, were motivated by economics. In Capital, Karl Marx observed that capitalism relied on “the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the … conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins” to consolidate itself, brutally, as the economic system replacing feudalism.

After arriving in the Caribbean islands, Columbus carried off many of the inhabitants to use as hands on his subsequent voyages. And as the colonizers settled in, they attempted to use the Indians as forced labor. But the natives’ intransigent resistance — if their attempts at revolt or escape were unsuccessful, they would often simply die — necessitated the importing of slaves from Africa.

Simultaneously, the Jews were being expelled from Spain; 300,000 are believed to have emigrated the day before Columbus embarked on his historic voyage. Jews had evolved into a far-flung people-class performing the crucial roles of merchant and lender within the feudal economy. But the rise of capitalism produced violent anti-Semitic persecutions by new gentile merchant classes developing in each country.

Indians, Africans, Jews: whole populations were vanquished, relocated, yoked, and decimated, all in the name of the almighty gold coin and the compulsive quest to accumulate capital.

Genocide births America. The colonizers took from native cultures only those things helpful in building empires and amassing wealth. They attempted to destroy all else.

The form of U.S. democracy was stolen, uncredited, from the Iroquois Great Law of Peace. But the resulting Constitution left out women’s rights — which were fundamental to the Iroquois Confederacy.

Matriarchal, communal, and ecological principles were targeted for annihilation. War, disease, Christianity, and displacement from the land were the agents of extinction.

Capitalists created Indian stereotypes to justify oppression, theft, and broken promises, just as they created Black stereotypes to justify slavery.

The “good Injun” is the noble warrior used to promote movies and sports teams and to romanticize settler/native “conflict” — that is, the extermination of Indians by the white ruling class.

The “bad Injun” is the lazy, drunken, “welfare squaw” — a deceitful portrait drawn to blame the victims, robbed of the means to be self-sufficient, for their own subjugation!

The red race lives! This slander and slaughter has been matched through the centuries by indigenous self-assertion from the Canadian arctic to Cape Horn.

In the United States, Indians continually square off against the world’s mightiest ruling class, often winning victories in battles over fishing rights, land claims, and autonomy. With fortitude and determination as their weapons, the women of Big Mountain organize against relocation; activists campaign for the release of framed American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier; and red brothers and sisters struggle to preserve our languages, cultures, and religions and to end poverty, deplorable health care, and educational deprivation.

In the forefront are native women, whose strength and perseverance have kept our nations fighting, against all odds.

The battle lines are drawn: indigenous peoples versus the multinational corporations who mercilessly steal, rape, and exploit. Because of the clear-cut contradiction between Indian needs and capitalist greed, native peoples are an integral part of revolutionary movements in countries such as Guatemala, Bolivia, and Peru.

Resistance by the First Nations keeps alive the realization that capitalism is not the only form of society possible.

Explosions against the anniversary celebrations. Opposition to the quincentennial hoopla is renewing Indian pride and political aggressiveness.

On Columbus Day, October 12, and the days leading up to it, the Western Hemisphere was ablaze with protest: mass demonstrations in Bolivia; a hunger strike in Argentina; bombings of a Spanish embassy in Chile and a Spanish bank in Peru; a meeting of native peoples from Alaska and Peru at the Aztec Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon near Mexico City; clashes between Mapuche Indians and police in Santiago and elsewhere in Chile; a 60-mile march organized by labor leaders in the Dominican Republic; the blocking of the Pan American Highway in Ecuador by Indians who used tree trunks, rocks, and sit-ins; a verdict of “guilty” from an indigenous people’s tribunal judging the U.S. government.

In the months leading up to Columbus Day, transcontinental conferences forged and strengthened alliances of native people from South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America. Organizations like the Continental Campaign of 500 Years of Indigenous, Black and Popular Resistance in the Americas rang out the demand for self-determination throughout the world.

Communalism and egalitarianism will rise again. Full recognition of native sovereignty includes an appreciation of the traditional tribal cultures. These were living examples of communism — democratic, egalitarian, and respectful of women, youth, and elders, with each person contributing to society for the well-being of all and serving as a responsible steward of the earth.

The socialism advocated by Marx and Frederick Engels and their co-thinkers and successors is nothing more or less than “a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient matriarchal clans,” as the trailblazing anthropologist Lewis Morgan wrote in Ancient Society in 1877.

International revolution and the building of global socialism will make these incandescent values real for the entire human race.

Alaskan Native Debra O’Gara, a resident of Seattle, Washington, is a tribal attorney and leader in Radical Women.

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