raceAhead: The Growth of Indigenous People’s Day

In ways large and small, the country has begun to re-think the second Monday in October, wondering collectively whether a holiday devoted to Christopher Columbus reflects the country we are or want to become.

In August, Los Angeles became the biggest city to date to cease celebrating the Italian explorer and instead honor the indigenous people whose lives were destroyed by the enslavement, colonialism, and plunder that Columbus is now understood to have unleashed.

Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Native American tribe told CNN that it matters. “Christopher Columbus’ legacy of extreme violence, enslavement and brutality is not in dispute,” he said. “Nor is the suffering, destruction of cultures and subjugation of Los Angeles’ original indigenous people, who were here thousands of years before anyone else.”

San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver and Austin, Texas are all celebrating Indigenous People’s Day in some form, and at least 16 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, don’t acknowledge Columbus Day as a public holiday.

The conversation isn’t without some pain. Many Italian American groups see the holiday as a way to celebrate their own survival as immigrants, not the erasure of someone else’s pain. “We had a very difficult time in this country for well over a hundred years,” Basil Russo of the Order of Italian Sons and Daughters of America told The Associated Press. “Columbus Day is a day that we’ve chosen to celebrate who we are. And we’re entitled to do that just as they are entitled to celebrate who they are.”

But when compared to the violence, vitriol, and Tiki Torches that have characterized the recent Confederate monument debate, the Columbus Day controversy feels relatively manageable – even when it gets heated. Particularly if you’re willing to overlook the ways indigenous communities in North America have been unable to find even the most basic relief from the legacy of their treatment: Abandoned by the economic system, surrounded by abject poverty, environmental toxins, and gender violence, while parodied as mascots owned by millionaires. Christopher Columbus offers an easy on-ramp into a conversation that is long overdue.

I expect in part it’s because the issue hasn’t been utterly inflamed by alt-right message makers who may not be prepared to make room in their tiny tent for descendants of Columbus.

I’d like to believe that it’s because, in part, there is no defense for Columbus did or what ultimately happened to the people who, as the bitter joke goes, discovered him standing on their beach.

But as Indigenous People’s Day becomes more popular, these small victories seem like a reminder of something that feels increasingly hard to believe these days: We can talk about hard things and survive it. We can think about the past with compassion for others and ourselves. And nobody has to disappear.

And don’t forget! Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit starts this afternoon! Follow live here.

On Point

How Breitbart built a white supremacist amplification machineThis story from Buzzfeed created a firestorm over the weekend, revealing internal documents that showed how Breitbart, under Steve Bannon’s leadership became an intentional engine for racist sentiment and “alt-right” hate. “These new emails and documents, however, clearly show that Breitbart does more than tolerate the most hate-filled, racist voices of the alt-right,” says Buzzfeed. “It thrives on them, fueling and being fueled by some of the most toxic beliefs on the political spectrum — and clearing the way for them to enter the American mainstream.” Some of the more explosive charges include evidence that some mainstream journalists were friendly with – even supportive of – the online attacks of Breitbart’s most notorious editor, the provocative Milo Yiannopoulos. A must read.Buzzfeed

“America Never Deserved Puerto Rico”
As the discourse on the President’s role in providing aid and comfort to post-Maria Puerto Rico continues to degrade, GQ’s Josh Rivera offers a poignant perspective on what it’s like to be a second generation Nuyorican, a little too gringo to blend in when he went back to the island of family lore, a little too brown to be accepted here in los Estados. The tension is deeply personal. “This is a nation where people are enraged at the very sound of a language that isn't English, where even the temerity to even look like you might utter a word of Spanish in a white person’s presence makes you a target. It does not matter if you are a citizen or not,” he says. At press time, Rivera still hadn’t heard from his abuelos, tios, or primos.

When you're disabled, poor and desperate
In Mallory, W. Va., a place most people will never go, life is a series of quietly desperate choices, many of them bad. Terrence McCoy has done an extraordinary job exploring the lives of residents, many of whom are sick or infirm, barely able to survive on their meager disability checks. But the informal economy, where many Americans turn to try to make ends meet, is fraught with literal dangers, not the least of which is government sanction. The story opens with a woman who had a quintuple bypass surgery in 2011 and has to climb a mountain to harvest edible roots to sell to buyers while avoiding snake bites. Her doctor always advises against it, but it's how she makes ends meet. “There is this theme of people being crooks, but it’s genuinely people trying to find a way to patch together a living when they have very little income,” explains a rural sociologists. “It’s not a moral issue. It’s a getting-by issue.”
Washington Post

Ava DuVernay is preparing an object lesson in the black, female gaze
That it comes in the form of a beloved classic should make it even more powerful. DuVernay’s long-awaited adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, the acclaimed novel by Madeleine L’Engle, places black girl magic front and center. In fact, a black girl saves the world. “Saving the world from darkness, and in the film darkness is defined as the darkness within us,” says DuVernay in this Vanity Fair interview. “She’s saving us from ourselves. It’s deep.” But part of the magic is the world that DuVernay herself is creating. She’s a black woman from Compton, so when she builds a fictional universe, it’s going to look different. “My planet is going to look different from my white male counterparts’ planet, which we’ve seen 97 percent of the time,” she said at the New Yorker festival. Is it going to fly with the audience? 
Vanity Fair

The Woke Leader

Bringing gender equity to coffee farming
Women play a significant role in coffee farming and processing, but rarely experience the financial benefits of their significant labor. “Social norms often discriminate against women in rural areas,” explains Nick Watson, who is one of many experts now focusing on gender equity in the coffee supply chain. “Most earnings go to men who own the property and manage commercial deals,” says Phyllis Johnson, a coffee importer and advocate for women in coffee farming. Training and development aimed directly at women may be helping, including women-only collectives and investment. Among them, Bloomberg Philanthropies has just donated $10 million to women through coffee initiatives in Rwanda and DRC.

The future of leadership? Black women
But you knew that, right? Paolo Gaudiano and Ellen Hunt, inclusive leadership experts, have written a column that highlights the trend of black women earning their way into leadership positions across all industries, including government, non-profit, and academia. “And now they are using their success to raise their visibility, share their experiences and inspire more black women to take up the challenges of leadership,” they say. Click through for the data they cite, and to share with all your black women friends who may need a reminder that their participation is essential. Best of all, Gaudiano and Hunt have created a list of black women they’ve recently seen shine at important industry events. “The next time you need a speaker or panelist for an event, or if you are looking for outstanding talent, please reach out to them.” They’re adding to the resource regularly, so drop them a line. Don’t be shy! They’ll be hearing from me.

In a new album, a young Native rapper explores his past and future
Frank Waln, a rapper and member of the Sicangu Lakota in South Dakota, uses music to process his own bouts with depression and explore what it’s like to be a modern Native American, inextricably linked to a history of genocide. He finds inspiration in the parallel journey of African Americans. "Hip hop just resonated with a lot of Native youth from my generation, especially growing up on reservations because we could relate to the stories being told in the music."


On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.
—Eric Kasum

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