By: Dawn Bjoraker, Lakota Nation
October 12th. The day an unknown individual took the Gold Medal in the men’s 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This individual was the only American to ever take the Gold in that race. He was born in 1938. He was born four years after Columbus Day was declared a federal holiday by Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.
The Individual who took that gold? Billy Mills. An Oglala Lakota born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It’s safe to say that all know about Columbus Day, but few know about Billy Mills. Why is that? When Billy Mills took his victory lap, it consisted of U.S.A. being brandished across his chest, with a flag of the United States over his shoulders. The victory of Columbus? Selling his men 9 and 10 year old indigenous girls to do with as they wish. Filling his ship with 500 Arawak men, women, and children so they could be brought back to Spain to be sold into slavery (roughly 200 of the Arawak died in transport).
In the words of Columbus, “They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… . They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants… . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Subjugate. This was his first idea. This is who we honor in this country by declaring every second Monday in October Columbus Day. How do we explain the justification to our children? Do we lie to them? Do we omit historical facts to make them feel better about this day? How do I explain it to my children? We are indigenous, like Billy Mills, we too are Lakota.
Concerning the Indians, Columbus also reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone…”
In the words of Billy Mills, “I was constantly told and challenged to live my life as a warrior. As a warrior you assume responsibility for yourself. The warrior humbles himself. And the warrior learns the power of giving.”
We are warriors. We are not conquistadors. We do not explore others. We explore ourselves. We do not take. We give. We do not celebrate the exploit and genocide perpetrated against indigenous men, women, and children. We also choose to not ignore it. We are not doomed to repeat history, because we choose not to ignore it. Are you?