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Evolving views of the holidays

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This is "Indian season," José Barreiro - a senior editor at Indian Country Today - notes dryly. Between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, the news media and schools dust off their American Indian stories in a sort of Black History Month for natives.

Despite that somewhat contrived focus, the attention is not unwelcome, many natives say. It's an opportunity to temper romanticized views about Indians and provide a more just telling of history, one that acknowledges the history of their demise following Columbus's arrival on the continent.

The battle over how the story should be told in schools, museums, and other public settings - and how the darker aspects of these holidays as seen from a native point of view should be acknowledged - came to a head in 1992, the year of Columbus's quincentennial. What emerged from the worldwide protests and boycotts of those celebrations was more in-depth research and ultimately a more nuanced account.

South Dakota changed the holiday's name from Columbus Day to Native American Day in 1990. And protests regularly erupt across the United States each year, Denver often taking the brunt of them.

In Venezuela, where 70 percent of the population has some Indian blood, President Hugo Chávez renamed the holiday the "Day of Indian Resistance," which was marked this year by his supporters in Caracas toppling a statue of Columbus.

For some Indians, however, the US national holiday of Thanksgiving remains a day of mourning. It was not just the events that followed the arrival of the Mayflower, but "the myths that were perpetrated on the whole of us that the Pilgrims fed 90 Indians, not thinking about the five deer that the Wampanoags brought to the meal and the other gifts of wild game," says Paulla Dove Jennings, an Indian of the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island. She and other Indians used to protest at the Plimouth Plantation until the museum in Plymouth, Mass., started to give the native perspective equal time, she says.

While many myths offensive to Natives have been punctured in recent decades, bitterness lingers.


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