I live in a small Minnesota town called Red Wing, named after a Native American chief in this area in the early 19th century. Our city council voted last night to change the name of the holiday Columbus Day to Chief Red Wing Day. The idea has been pushed for some time by a local high school history teacher.
I would think a history teacher would know better.
I am completely in favor of our town having a Chief Red Wing Day. Nothing but good can come from remembering and honoring those who dwelt here long ago and many of whose people still live in the area. What makes no good sense is having one name supplant the other. Columbus Day has long marked the earliest beginnings of what was to become the most powerful nation on earth. As such, it was a good and important part of our cultural heritage.
It is also good to remember and regret that from the beginning, Europeans almost always abused the indigenous population. It is part of our developing sensitivity to minorities that we are now starting to acknowledge that, by today’s standards, that abuse was often cruel and deeply shameful.
We need to remember both sides of the story because that’s the way history is. Never simply right or wrong, always a blending of the two — that’s the tragedy of the human story. Our historians and teachers of history serve no one well when they encourage us simply to flip-flop from one side of the story to the other.
Columbus remains a significant symbol of the bursting forth of Western Civilization which has brought amazing benefits to humankind. Chief Red Wing, a long time friend of the newly emerging nation which was crowding out his people, is a perfect symbol of the best of the indigenous peoples. Must we choose between the two symbols? Is it realistic to do so?