Darrell Berkheimer: When will America really be discovered?
I was glad to see The Union’s front page display of photos Monday on Indigenous Peoples Day. But I was disappointed because a local story did not accompany the photos.
I also think the photos display should have referred readers to a related story on Page A6, with the headline stating, “More cities recognizing Native Americans on Columbus Day.”
The photo on Page A6 cites a movement to Abolish Columbus Day in favor of renaming it Indigenous Peoples Day. There are good reasons for that attitude.
Our public school history books are guilty of glorifying Christopher Columbus. Not until college do history students learn that Columbus was little more than a plunderer responsible for the exploitation and deaths of thousand of natives in the islands he visited.
Author James W. Loewen, in his book “Lies My Teacher Told Me – Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong,” observes that the real purpose of the Columbus voyages were “not mere exploration or even trade, but conquest and exploitation …”
Anthropologist Jack Weatherford, in his book titled “Indian Givers,” supplies us with hundreds of reasons to be honoring Native Americans on that day — instead of Columbus.
I believe few people realize just how many important items were not available in Europe until the explorers found them in our Western Hemisphere and introduced them to Europe.
The list includes potatoes, tomatoes, corn, rubber, quinine and more than 200 other medicines and pharmaceuticals that were first used by American Indians.
More than half of our modern medicines came from natives in the Americas.
Potatoes did not come from Ireland, as so many people seem to believe. They came from South America, where they were developed extensively in an area that is now part of Peru and Bolivia.
Cultivation of potatoes throughout Europe provided for improved health and, as a result, a population boom.
And corn, which Columbus found in Cuba, originally was developed in what is now Mexico.
Loewen’s book notes “Almost half of all major crops now grown throughout the world originally came from the Americas.”
So when will we act to fully recognize all that Native Americans have provided for our modern standards of living?
That action is long overdue.
As Weatherford indicates in his final chapter, it is time for America to really be discovered.
Darrell Berkheimer lives in Grass Valley
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