By Tom De Seno
“I do not intend to prejudge the past.” – William Whitelaw
There’s a right way to do an Indigenous People’s Day and a wrong way. Leave it to today’s Asbury Park to choose a bigoted way.
The right way to do Indigenous People’s Day is to host a celebration of them, where all their cultural markers are observed.
The wrong way is to spend most of the event haranguing Italian Americans for celebrating Columbus, which is what the Asbury Park event turned out to be. What low self-esteem Native Americans must have if all they can muster at a celebration of themselves is a complaint about other people. That’s who you are? A complainant? That’s how you define yourselves?
Oh, wait a minute – this event wasn’t put on by Native Americans. Don’t blame them. It was put on by two politically leftist white people and their Protestant church. That’s why Native pride was replaced with self-righteous contempt for Catholic Italian Americans.
Can it get worse than that? Of course it can. This is Asbury Park. The City Council was all in. They waived the permit process (illegally, which is becoming their bad habit) and gave them an historically inaccurate Proclamation for their “anti-Italian festival.”
They find themselves in interesting historical company though. The first to oppose Columbus Day in America was the Ku Klux Klan. White supremacists have always hated Catholics and Italians and they lynched us. In fact, the largest mass lynching in American history was of Italian men.
Columbus is the most lied about historical figure. He was not involved in genocide, slavery or rape, as the event organizers and the Internet faux-history machine allege. The historical source documents from his time prove that.
Let’s back up and look at why Columbus Day is fast becoming a fight between Native Americans and Italians (a fight neither is picking but political leftists are encouraging). The issue arises from how differently Columbus Day is celebrated in Hispanic countries and how it is celebrated in America.
In Hispanic countries Columbus Day was about the Conquista – the conquest by Spain (not Italy) of the Western Hemisphere. That’s understandable since the bloodline of many people there lead back to Spain. It’s also understandable that the Indigenous People in Hispanic countries might not celebrate that – they were conquered. Although, 500 years and 30 generations of intermarrying ought to have healed that wound a bit.
In America, Columbus Day is not even slightly about the Conquista of the natives. Columbus (who died in 1506 before the Conquista occurred), was Italian and an unparalleled heroic Admiral. As Italian AMERICANS and CATHOLICS we take pride that his maritime exploits led to the eventuality of the greatest country on earth, the U.S.A. That’s right, an Italian’s vision did that and we thank God we are here.
Nothing against the Spanish, but we aren’t them. Italy didn’t conquer this hemisphere 500 years ago, Spain did. We don’t celebrate that; we celebrate Columbus the man who had nothing to do with the conquest. He never even conquered the Caribbean where he landed. He died thinking he was in the East Indies.
Yet these organizers’ hate was directed not at the Spanish (nor should it be), but at Italians. For what? Well, that has to do with American left-wing politics.
Hispanic people are considered minorities, non-white and therefore unassailable. Italians, who suffered a history of ethnic discrimination in jobs and housing, were abruptly declared to be “white people” when Affirmative Action was developed, so we couldn’t take part in it. Now, when the left complains of “white people,” that means we Italians are the very people who discriminated against us. As if we did it to ourselves. Yes – left wing identity politics is just that circular and fallacious.
Let’s look at all the ways the Asbury Park Indigenous People’s Day, supposedly celebrating New Jersey’s Lenni Lenape, was phony.
First, they claimed it was a celebration of the local “Sand Hill Indians.” The truth is, they weren’t here first and weren’t moved off their land.
Sand Hill isn’t even in Asbury Park. It’s in Neptune. Isaac Richardson, a Cherokee (not a Lenni Lenape), came here in 1877 AFTER Asbury Park was founded. He bought 15 acres of Neptune from Asbury Park founder James Bradley. That became Sand Hill. No one stole land from him. He was living in Tinton Falls for 30 years prior and in Georgia before that.
Second, while the nearest Native people to this area were Lenni Lenape, history shows they weren’t close at all and not near Asbury Park. Nor were they forcibly removed from their land. Here’s a timeline:
Lenni Lenapi settled west of the Hudson in the Highland mountains of North Jersey and down South between the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers. Numbering about 8,000 they didn’t populate the Atlantic Coast and scant evidence of transient camps have been found on the coast.
If the Walum Olum (historical document of Lenape lore) is to be believed, they arrived in the Delaware Bay around 1396, less than a century before Columbus arrived in Hispaniola. If that’s so, they replaced whatever Paleo-Indians were here first. So, what happened to them? Did the Lenape colonize and kill them? No one knows. Let’s avoid that controversy and assume the Lenape evolved from the Paleo-Indians.
After the first European sighting of the Lenape around Delaware Bay in 1610, documents describe them as “few, innocent and friendly.” The Dutch and the Swedes who came later never defeated the Lenni Lenape in a war for land nor did they try.
In 1621 The Dutch West India Company formed New Netherland (it included New Jersey) and their charter insisted that Indian lands be purchased, not taken. They made mutual defense treaties with the Lenni Lenape to protect them from the attacking Mohicans. Down near South Jersey, William Penn bought Indian lands; he didn’t go to war with them.
When the British took over from the Dutch in 1674, East and West Jersey was formed, then the “Monmouth Tract” was created. The British sent 13 Quaker families to live here. They didn’t send 13 garrisons of trigger-happy Red Coats. They sent 13 families.
Later as the British battled the French, various tribes sided with both. The British solved this problem with the Treaty of Easton in 1758. There, 13 Chiefs agreed to sell “Lenapehoking,” all of their land in what is now New Jersey, receiving in return land in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Over 500 Lenape attended the deed transfer ceremony. No one took their land by force – they sold it.
The Indian Removal Act, contrived and implemented by Democrat Party founders Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, didn’t touch the Lenni Lenape. It removed 5 tribes from the southeast to Oklahoma (along with thousands of Black slaves owned by the Indians). Lenni Lenape were not involved in this Trail of Tears.
Further proving the point, in 2009 the Sand Hill Indians sued the US government claiming they own New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They sought $1 trillion, payable in gold coins (not even gold bars, they wanted coins). They lost. They sold the land long ago.
Yet at the Asbury Park event, with children in attendance, they claimed Asbury Park is rightfully called “Lenni Lenape land” and this land was stolen. Nice job teaching children fake facts, leftist event organizers.
So, how does any of this mean Italians are supposed to hate Columbus? It doesn’t. Now let’s look at their phony attacks on him at their supposed celebration of themselves.
Two speakers started the Asbury Park event declaring that there isn’t one statue of Columbus in all of Italy, so why have them here? They‘re right. There isn’t one statue of Columbus in Italy. There’s 70 statues of Columbus in Italy.
So why another falsehood in front of kids? They were trying to make the point that European Italians are better people than Italian Americans. Meanwhile, Italy celebrates the day every year as Giornata nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo.
Apparently, Italian Americans are as good as people everywhere. Columbus Day has been celebrated in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico and in the Caribbean. More than thirty countries have statues of Columbus, and there are hundreds of them in total, as far away as Egypt and Japan. They are celebrating an Italian explorer, not a Spanish Conquista.
One of the Native Speakers said, “Italians can just celebrate Frank Sinatra instead.” So, you get to define us? Not we? In the lexicon of the left, what do I call that – Indian-splaining? Red privilege? The Irishman Phil Murphy, Governor of New Jersey, said the same – telling Italians we can just find some other Italian to celebrate. You know Phil, every Italian I know on March 17 puts on a green shirt and celebrates with his Irish neighbors. Never would we be so dismissive, so rude, as to insist on changes to their ethnic culture.
If a lie is repeated often enough it becomes truth. They told the usual ones about Columbus:
- The lie: They said Columbus ended his time in the West when he was arrested and jailed by Spain for abuses toward the natives.
The truth: Spain sent Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate claims Columbus was not fair to the Spanish settlers; he was favoring the natives. The day after he arrived, with no investigation, he made up stories about native abuses, arrested Columbus and declared himself Governor. The Crown discovered de Bobadilla was lying, reinstated Columbus as Admiral and arrested de Bobadilla. How disingenuous to leave that out! It would be like saying Nelson Mandela was a convict but not telling the rest of his story.
- The lie: They said Columbus was a slave trader.
The truth: After his first landing Columbus left 39 men at a camp he called La Navidad. When he returned, he found one Taino Indian faction massacred all of them. Columbus went to war with that faction, and another Taino faction helped Columbus. Pursuant to the rules of war, he took 500 POWs, which could be converted to slaves. The Queen detested slavery and stopped the practice of selling POWs as slaves.
- The lie: Columbus took slaves himself.
The truth: In Spain there was a labor system called “encomienda” which was not slavery. In the New World it was a system of exchanges that allowed the natives to be paid for work and other benefits, including education and protecting the Taino from the savage and cannibalistic Carib Indians. The Taino still owned the land as new Castilians. “Encomienda” can devolve into a system of slavery, since it isn’t market based. Guess who never used the system – the Italian Columbus. Who did use it? Ovando, a Spanish Governor, the third one AFTER Columbus. Ovando let Columbus stay shipwrecked in Jamaica for a year, likely fearing Columbus would oust him over his abuses of the Taino.
- The lie: Columbus was a child sex trafficker and rapist.
The truth: In a letter Columbus noted that girls as young as 9 were being sold. It was a complaint letter. This was after Columbus was ousted by de Bobadilla and he was complaining about how things have deteriorated since his departure.
More truth: On the second voyage, Michele de Cuneo describes raping an Indian woman after fighting the Carib cannibals. In one part of the letter he says Columbus “gave her to him.” What is ignored? The letter first says he took her, not that Columbus gave her to him. Is it real? No one else recorded this encounter nor anything like it. de Cuneo seems to be engaging in braggadocio of his own sexual prowess like a disturbed letter to Penthouse. Now, look at the surrounding facts. None of Columbus’ detractors who worked against him (there were several) ever accused him of rape or sex trafficking. As they were trying to oust him, wouldn’t they have? Even Rodan, who started a rebellion against Columbus did not. In fact, his complaint was the opposite. He complained Columbus would not let the Spaniards have native women and he made them take the monastic vow of chastity.
- The lie: When Columbus first saw the natives, he wanted to enslave them and said that he could with only 50 men.
The truth: Columbus did not want to and had no intention of doing so. On the day he landed he was giving a report to the Crown about what conditions were there, including a security report. This was an observation, not an aspiration.
- The lie: A contemporary of Columbus, Bartolome de las Cases, wrote about Columbus’ atrocities toward native people.
The truth: de Las Cases was 8 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and he wasn’t on the ship. de Las Cases didn’t come to the New World until he was a teenager, 6 years after Columbus was Governor, so he never witnessed a day of Columbus’ short rule. de Las Cases spent the first part of his life going on slave raids against the Taino, after Columbus was dead. Later he decided that was wrong and advocated replacing all the Indian slaves, with Black slaves from Africa. Still later in life, he decided that was wrong too. In an attempt to steer criticism from his own atrocities, he began writing about Columbus – 36 years after Columbus died. This is not a “contemporary” account of Columbus. It’s not an eyewitness report. de las Cases’ own contemporaries called him paranoid and mentally ill.
- The lie: Columbus is responsible for genocide.
The truth: Large scale deaths can be attributed to disease. Columbus couldn’t stop it because he didn’t know what a germ was. Germs weren’t known in Europe until Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro proposed them, 40 years after Columbus died. Whomever came first was going to spread disease, and that’s not a genocide, which requires political intention.
To summarize, Columbus the Italian is often blamed for what later Spanish governors did to the Taino. He couldn’t control, nor is he responsible for, what the Spanish government did after his rule ended. That would be like blaming Barack Obama for anything one doesn’t like about Donald Trump, simply because Obama came first. Silly, right? Obama didn’t “enable” or “lead to” Trump because he came first. He simply came first. George H.W. Bush isn’t responsible for what Bill Clinton later did in the oval office to an intern, is he? Columbus is not responsible for what Spanish governors did later, either. Columbus was a good Italian Catholic and we celebrate him.
Another whopping lie told in Asbury Park was not about Columbus, but America herself.
They claimed America is involved in a current genocide of Native Americans. Let’s put aside that Native American numbers are growing. As hyperbolic and obviously false that claim is, I decided to at least research it. There are organizations and media who track current genocides and potential genocides around the world. None of them listed America. In fact, no country was listed in the entire Western Hemisphere.
But now there’s a group of children running around Asbury Park who think that America is actively killing Native Americans. The Protestant church who organized this is very politically active and waives the usual virtue signaling flags of love, diversity and peace. Yet here they sow discord and indoctrinate children to hate America with lies. The City Council owns those lies for supporting this, because they knew that was going to be said and they helped them say it with an imprimatur from the City government.
Speaking of the City Council, did they actually give a Proclamation in support? When the Church first advertised this, they said the City had recognized Indigenous People’s Day. That would have been really big news because only two New Jersey towns ever have. Yet nothing was in the news.
A check with City Council revealed they actually had not, as late as an hour before the event. Then at the event, a majority of the Council arrived and read what they said was a Proclamation. Since then, an OPRA request was sent to the City Clerk. The response – they have no record of a Proclamation about Indigenous People’s day. Weird? No – just usual Asbury.
Let’s hope they didn’t actually issue it because it was embarrassing.
The maybe-Proclamation makes the juvenile argument that Columbus didn’t “discover” America because people were already here. I shudder at having to explain this.
Doesn’t NASA discover new planets? Don’t we say Fleming discovered penicillin and Madam Curie discovered radium? Don’t fireman discover a body in the rubble, or police discover one at a crime scene? Does the City Council think those people, planets and elements didn’t exist before those “discoveries?” The word does not connote creation – it connotes the actor finding something he or she had not known before. Columbus did discover the Americas for the Europeans, which led eventually to the USA.
I support Indigenous People’s Day celebrations and would attend and donate to them. Hispanic countries seem to be handling them and Columbus Day particularly well. They either combine them or separate them instead of destroying one or the other. Argentina’s is a “Day of Respect of Cultural Diversity.” Colombia celebrates “the encounter of two worlds.” Peru celebrates “Intercultural Dialogue Day.” Costa Rica celebrates “A Day of Encounter of Cultures.”
See the pattern? They strive for inclusion of all. I like that. No one is cancelled. I suggested a full weekend in Asbury Park and elsewhere – Indigenous People’s Day beginning on Friday and Columbus Day on Monday. Everyone wins.
The white organizers at the Protestant Church and their Native American guests in Asbury Park rejected that. It was stated clearly that Indigenous People’s Day is not enough – they want an end to Columbus Day whether Italians and Catholics like it or not.
The City Council, faced with that choice, chose exclusivity over inclusion. They chose mono-view over diversity. They chose to continue a fight rather than to resolve it with a compromise.
I’m betting this piece is too long for them to want to finish, because Italians are no longer the voting bloc in Asbury they once were. Yet good governance commands ethnic minorities should be paid attention to for the very reason that their voice isn’t loud.
You five on the Asbury Park City Council and your city manager should have to work next Columbus Day. Arrivederci.
Tom De Seno is an attorney and commentator residing in Asbury Park, New Jersey.