The rich history of Native Americans honored by Indigenous People's Day proclamation | Opinion

·3 min read

President Joe Biden on Oct. 8, with the stroke of a pen did what no other national executive before him had done: officially recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day.

Heretofore, I have focused on the horror of the entry of Columbus into what was to the Indigenous a veritable paradise, but on this occasion I will elucidate on the beauty, advancements and genius of the people of the pre-Columbian Americas.

Lou White Eagle addresses a rally at the Metro Courthouse for changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.
Lou White Eagle addresses a rally at the Metro Courthouse for changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn.

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Who were the ancient Indigenous Americans?

In pre-contact times, the native people of the Americas were physical and social scientists, advanced agriculturalists, physicians, general surgeons, far ranging merchants, plastic surgeons, mathematicians (in Central America the ancient Olmecs and Mayas developed the concept of zero long before their European counterparts), architects, urban planners (huge Native cities existed throughout the U.S. Midwest, Southeast and Southwest and Central and South America) poets, engineers, astronomers, anesthesiologists, cartographers, artists, metallurgists, optical technologists, road builders, brain surgeons, psychologists, musicians, stone masons, plumbers, dentists, scribes, ecologists, orators, environmentalists, botanists and political scientists.

Indigenous Americans were all of the above and more, and are to this very day.

To be more specific, it requires the articulation of a few interesting local facts as follows:

Tennessee, the name of the very state we live in is from the ancient Cherokee town of Tanase, the Cherokee capital in the mid-eighteenth country, located in the eastern part of the state: a thousand years ago the area of present-day Nashville was home to the largest Indigenous population in the Southeast with over one million Indigenous inhabitants in an endless number of towns, villages and hamlets.

There were also huge cities, in fact modern-day Nashville sits atop ancient Nashville. Also, in ancient Middle Tennessee a thousand years ago when most of the rest of the world was eating with its fingers the first known spoon and fork –“spork”—made from conch shell originated in the Cumberland Valley predating all other such implements made for table use; and last but not least on this cursory list is the fact that “country hams” were the culinary innovation of Cherokees, who were noted for having the best country hams in the South in the eighteenth century.

Native people had long been smoking venison. Many Cherokees had smokehouses. White settlers, in times of peace, traveled to Cherokee towns to barter for the hams, as the chestnut diet of Native raised hogs was said to make the meat the tastiest in the land.

Recognition of the stellar achievements and contributions of the Native people of the Western Hemisphere great and small by the signing of the Proclamation was an important step in the right direction, Next year there should state recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day with a follow up celebration that was absent this year because of national health considerations.

Hopefully, the proclamation helps to bring an end to the erasure of Native history on the national horizon. What needs to be worked for is the complete replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Albert Bender of Nashville is a Cherokee activist, journalist and author of "Native American Wisdom." Email him at

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Proclamation of Indigenous People's Day honors rich Native history

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