When she was growing up, Nisenan’s spokeswoman Shelly Covert’s birthday – October 10 – often fell on the second Monday in October, the same day the federal government christened Columbus Day.
“My classmates used to tell me, ‘You’re so lucky,'” said Covert.
Even with the modern name change, the spokeswoman for 146 living members of the Nisenan tribe said the holiday never caused feelings of happiness.
Covert said the federal recognition of Christopher Columbus – out of context – legitimized colonialism by perpetuating the idea of the white savior and manifest fate.
“That it should be called that at all is a little absurd, given the terrible things Columbus did to the American people on his way,” Covert said.
People need to study more than one perspective of the Portuguese’s arrival in America, Covert said, and speak openly about it.
“I wouldn’t mind if people said, ‘Without Columbus and his violence, we wouldn’t be here,'” said Covert, adding that commemorating this particular historical figure means dealing with inconvenient facts and vivid images .
Covert said the colonizer’s violence was more understandable given the hostility or hardship in her own homeland, but said Americans must own the entire narrative, no matter how unsavory.
“How can we be proud of this country with this gross inheritance hanging over our heads?” She asked.
Covert said the Nisenan’s own loyalty to the land was so deep that pending citizenship tribesmen extended their loyalty to the United States through military service after introducing the concept of land ownership.
“Most of my family would absolutely say, ‘I love this country,’ and we have high hopes for it,” said Covert.
Covert herself dedicated her life to truth-finding – as well as the federal recognition her tribe lost 63 years ago.
Enclosed and exiled from the Nevada City Rancheria in 1938, the Nisenan are living descendants of a California native who once inhabited all of the American, Bear, and Yuba Rivers for over 13,000 years. Today, they are one of three remaining tribes that have yet to regain land rights that were lost to 44 tribes across the state in the late 1950s, amid the “Era of Ending”.
“It’s a shame when I think about it too much,” Covert said. “We deserve to be undermined like everyone else. It hurts me in a different way. “
The recognition is partly symbolic, Covert said, but the tangible benefits that depend on the recognition have the potential to serve their people in real and impactful ways.
Covert said she was thrilled when President Joe Biden appointed the first Native American Congressman Deb Haaland to be his Secretary of the Interior, but fails to articulate the new kind of frustration and disappointment experienced when progressive Indigenous policies are developed, but inapplicable remain their own family.
Haaland set up a truth and healing commission, Covert said, “but because we are not federally recognized, we are not invited.” The same goes for Biden’s tribal peaks. “We’re not on the magic list,” Covert said, although members of her family still struggled with the childhood trauma they suffered when their families dragged them away to go to boarding schools on the stated mission, “the Indian.” to kill not the man “. . “
Covert said she just filed a stack of documents that she estimates are 5 inches thick with the Native American Heritage Commission. Even if recognized there, state recognition will not give the tribe access to the social and educational services they need, Covert explained, although that would add to their struggle at the federal level.
Covert said legitimizing the tribe by helping the Nisenans regain their self-sovereignty and lose land will have indefinite benefits for all concerned. Covert said that the Nisenan tradition – rooted in mutual respect and the spirit of gratitude – has the power to influence contemporary politics, art and spirituality about the tribe’s relationship with nature.
“Like the miner’s canary, the Indian marks the change from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians (…) reflects the rise and fall of our democratic faith, ”Covert said, according to famous indigenous attorney and attorney Felix Cohen.
Coverts canary sings. The spokeswoman for Nisenan offers guided tours of ‘Uba Seo, the rancheria art project visibility through the whole Monday.
What remains, Covert said, is the proverbial Nevada County’s miners listening to the canary’s screams.
“Everything that has happened makes me wonder – how many times can someone fall through the cracks or be overlooked after all that has been done?” Covert said. “Nevertheless we survive here in our home countries.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a writer for The Union. She can be reached at [email protected]