I will discuss why American Indians and Alaska Natives want to abolish Columbus Day as being a national holiday.

Also, believe strongly the narrative change concerningn indigenous peoples of this land must begin in schools to deconstruct the false history that is still being taught across America about Columbus "discovering" America.

This AMA is part of r/IAmA’s “Spotlight on Journalism” project which aims to shine a light on the state of journalism and press freedom in 2018. Join us for a new AMA every day in October. 

Comments: 392 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

himalayansaltlick92 karma

History teacher here. Unfortunately, curricula and exams often force us to teach the standard narrative of American history. At the same time, we do have some wiggle room to introduce alternative narratives. How would you go about either 1) weaving an alternative narrative into the prescribed narrative or, 2) teaching an alternate narrative (and what might the arc of that narrative be)?

LeviRickert33 karma

Invite in guest speakers who are American Indian who can present our narrative in a positive way.

jessKa9967 karma

Do you believe Colombus' arrival should still be taught as an important moment in american history

LeviRickert162 karma

The narrative should be changed to recognize he came and colonization began. He should not be glorified or made out to be a hero.

Thementalrapist5 karma

Well, happy Columbus Day I guess.

LeviRickert10 karma

And, I would say "Goodbye to Columbus and hello to Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day!"

ihsv69-4 karma

Shouldn’t he at least be glorified for sailing across the ocean successfully and founding the first successful European settlements in the new world? Some of the natives were practicing human sacrifice so maybe everyone is bad.

LeviRickert3 karma

No, he should not be gloriified...read history.

gekogekogeko40 karma

Hi Levi, great to have you on this forum. I'm also a journalist and I work a lot on environmental topics as well as in indigenous communities around the world. However, every time that I've tried to write about Native American traditions or topics I find that the tribes are incredibly difficult to work with. I mostly get turned away from doing interviews and people write pretty scathing things on social media simply for posing questions about traditions.

Let me give you an example. Most recently I was writing a chapter in a book about heat traditions around the world and I wanted to include sections about sweat lodges but the response from the Lakota and Menominee were so hostile that I decided to cut it completely and look at saunas in Latvia instead. When my book comes out I'm sure that people will tell me that I should have written about the traditions in North America, and tell me that I'm purposely leaving them out. I feel like I can't win.

Obviously there is a pretty terrible history between the tribes and the rest of America. So I get the animosity. And yet, I find it relatively easy to report on indigenous communities in South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. So how do white male reporters like me bridge the gap here?

LeviRickert26 karma

I think building relationships is a critical part of a journalist's job. Identify Native people to become friends and openly disclose your intentions to present an accurate portrayal of American Indians. I hope this advice helps.

pjay32128 karma

What are affirmative ways you can provide context for an alternative narrative to replace "Columbus Day", given indigenous people's contributions to American society have been grossly overlooked throughout history?

Is there really one "Indigenous Narrative" that can be agreed upon by native Americans, given tribal societies are so different from one another?

LeviRickert42 karma

Here is a great project underway that addresses changing the narrative:


pjay3217 karma

Wow - well done. Very cool!

LeviRickert14 karma

Megwetch - Thank you!

JTC8019 karma

How do you respond to people who believe we should still call the day Columbus Day?

LeviRickert50 karma

I think we should abolish Columbus Day as a national holiday. To honor Italian Americans, we should have a National Italian American Heritage Day.

Glassblowinghandyman18 karma

What do Italian Americans have to do with Columbus day?

While I agree that Columbus was a total piece of shit, based on what I've read about him, Isn't the point of the holiday to celebrate the Western discovery of the Americas?

Classically, the term "discovery" when referring to lands, doesn't just mean being the first to find them. It means being the one to find, document, and retain knowledge of and connection to said lands. By that metric, Columbus(or rather his crew) did discover the Americas, regardless of how shitty he (or they) was otherwise.

LeviRickert6 karma

I can't show up at your house and say I discovered it when you were there first.

jlialp11 karma

I had I mycology professor that said something like "hey, don't talk smack about Columbus, I'm Italian." Does that sound as dumb to you as it did to me?

LeviRickert32 karma

I would agree. I think we should have an annual day to celebrate contributions made by Italian Americans. As history records Italian Americans faced tremendous discrimination during height of their immigration to America.


Sounds like a reasonable compromise. Did we even have a Columbus Day prior to heavy Italian immigration? Columbus Day could be renamed and repurposed into an Italian St. Patrick’s Day, where it’s understood to be specifically for a particular group but everyone’s invited to have fun with it. Corned beef and beer for one, cannolis and wine for the other...I’m liking this idea!

LeviRickert10 karma

Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1937. Time to change it to a day to recognize accomplishment of Italian Americans.

Thatlookedlikeithurt18 karma

Native People groups in the United States have extremely high rates of Alcoholism and Domestic Violence. Unfortunately due to poor funding limited law enforcement resources are available. What are some ways, outside of Law Enforcement, do you think these two serious issues can be addressed?

LeviRickert54 karma

I am a strong believer American Indians need to embrace our rich culture of our ancestors when alcohol and domestic violence was not a part of how we conducted ourselves. I am not trying to portray paradise, but rather advancing the teachings that include love, respect, honesty, bravery, humility, truth, and wisdom.

Sadly, alcoholism and domestic violence knows no racial or ethnic barrier.

jocelynezzi15 karma

Hello! I'm from Canada and I was recently having a conversation with a First Nations (Ojibwe) friend of mine about the shortcomings of the Reconciliation Act we have here. I was just wondering, as an American what do you think about it? What do you appreciate and what else should be done? Thanks!!

LeviRickert15 karma

I love the spirit of First Nations people in Canada. Native News covered the Idle No More movement seven years ago. The First Nations people attempt to keep the Canadian government accountable, which in my opinion is great. Governments must be held accountable for their actions.

ghitzabomba15 karma

Did you read Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee? Did you find it accurately presents Native American history?

LeviRickert34 karma

I have read "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." I think it is an excellent book.


We often hear about the atrocities that occurred after Columbus' arrival, and of course don't want to diminish the truth - but are there any positive historical accounts of early European explorers interacting, working, or living with indigenous people of the Americas (beyond the "First Thanksgiving" narrative), that could help bridge the current divide between people who disagree on the true narrative? How are explorers like Leif Erickson viewed differently among the Native community when compared to controversial figures like Christopher Columbus?

LeviRickert11 karma

I agree that we should not always concentrate on the negative aspects of history. Today, we need to discover ways to build positive relationships.

iagreewithfarnsworth10 karma

How are you and your organization communicating your goals to the educational community and what has been the response?

LeviRickert21 karma

I am fine and hope you are as well. Native News Online publishes 365 days per year. We attempt to address these issues on an ongoing basis. The task is huge given curricular seldom addresses indigenous peoples' issues in our schools. We need to get beyond the "Thanksgiving" Indian depicted in our schools.

iagreewithfarnsworth11 karma

Have you thought of providing alternative curriculum for different educational levels, especially elementary-aged children that teachers can introduce at a young age?

Also, how can I as an individual Native American who lives in very modern American culture help make a difference?

Thanks for the great work you do!

LeviRickert21 karma

Several tribal educational departments have been working with school boards to advance a more accurate portrayal of American Indians across the country. As individual American Indians, we should begin at home. When my children were in elementary school, I pushed hard for an accurate portrayal of who we are today in contemporary times. I even was asked to make presentations in their classrooms. These gestures may seem small, but if we all participate, there is a difference being made!

ShinyThingsInMud9 karma

How can other americans help native americans preserve their culture?

LeviRickert14 karma

Learn the accurate history and then tell others.

Hellnacht8 karma

Knowing Better - In Defense of Columbus: An Exaggerated Evil

That said I don't care about Columbus day.

Why do you think we should recognize Indigenous people for a day?

LeviRickert0 karma

It is a replacement to celebrating a man who should not be recognized. For those who think a name means nothing, I would ask why was Saul's name changed to Paul?

waiguorer7 karma

I find eating to be one of my favorite ways to experience other cultures. Any recommendations for cook books with native American recipe?

I've heard that some tribes really lost a lot of the cooking traditions when there native lands and thus many of the foods they could hunt changed. But am curious to learn more about the state of modern cuisine.

LeviRickert16 karma

I highly recommend "The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen" by Sean Sherman. It won a national book award a few months ago...great book in the indigenous food movement with many recipes.

_EvilD_7 karma

Do you find the Washington Redskins name insulting? Also, have you listened to Danielli Bolelli's podcast History On Fire, War for the Black Hills about the Lakota struggle? If not, I'd highly suggest it.

LeviRickert3 karma

I hate the NFL team using the R-word! Very disrepectful. Despite what the Washington Post says most American Indians I know hate the usage...there are always the uncles in families who see no harm in the term...The Washington Post found those uncles.

NinetyDolphions6 karma

Is there anything I can do to help your cause?

LeviRickert28 karma

You can assist by gaining knowledge of who Native people are today -- even beyond Indian gaming. Our culture is intact. You can help spread the accurate narrative.

wanyequest6 karma

This is off topic, but if you have any input I would greatly appreciate it.

I travel often, and while I don't have a lot of money I like to support the local community as much as I can. When I am on native lands are there types of businesses I should avoid beyond the big box stores and chain restaurants?

LeviRickert14 karma

I appreciate you wanting to spend your money in local communities. Please support the Indian artisans on tribal lands.

h0bb1tm1ndtr1x6 karma

How did the Natives and Vikings get along when they first discovered America? It's interesting to think they had a couple hundred years on Columbus and their settlements are still being found now and again along the coast. I always heard they had more respect for Native Americans.

LeviRickert1 karma

Well, you are probably correct. We don't hear the stories of genocide by the Vikings on the indigenous peoples of this land as we do about Columbus' men.

EarlofATX5 karma

I grew up in Christian and public schools in one of the most conservative parts of the country, but I feel very fortunate that my teachers always managed to dedicate 2-6 weeks a year to learning Native traditions and what was known of the history. In the Christian elementary school, though, they always managed to put the "Divine Providence" bent to Columbus' discovery of the Americas. To this day, I am absolutely fascinated with Native history, particularly north of Mesoamerica because so much is still being deciphered and uncovered.

One thing I am curious about is what is the general feeling among those with official tribal affiliation about white people claiming Native ancestry? And do you have any suggestions about how someone could explore potential ancestry in a reliable and sensitive way?

Like a good portion of families in the South, my dad's side has their family legends about how my grandmother was raised by her single Native mother, but her memory was notoriously unreliable, and there's basically no written records that I'm aware of. That side of the family doesn't even bother with finding the tribe name other than to say it was whatever tribe occupied East Texas at the time (the Coushatta have a reservation in the county where my dad was born, but they're relatively recent arrivals, and the land was historically Caddo). Given my family history is quite fuzzy and untraceable outside of Texas, it would be cool to find a bit more information about these stories I grew up hearing, but I also want to be careful that I'm not claiming minority status like it's a token accessory.

LeviRickert8 karma

When I ran an urban American Indian center, I often encountered grown adults who had recently found out they had been adopted and discovered they were American Indians. I would tell them that getting involved with their roots or heritage can be a painful experience because of many factors.

So, I would tell you to embrace it with humility and walk softly with respect.

whichwitch95 karma

What would be the most important thing you'd like to see changed in American schools?

LeviRickert15 karma

Teaching accuracy in American history is a good place to begin.

phyphor5 karma

Some friends of mine (at least one of whom is an Indigenous American) have said that because the use of the word "savage" has been applied to native groups en masse that it is, therefore, an intrinsically racist word and can never be used without the racial connotation.

As a Brit I see the word used a lot without the implicit racism in UK publications. I feel that the assumption the word is racist imbues the word with racist meaning, even when none was intended.

Should I avoid using the word online, because of the high proportion of US people where it is a racist term? Should I start to reach out to UK publications and request they consider an alternative synonym? Should I even get involved in this sort of discussion because I'm an outsider?

LeviRickert4 karma

Everyone should be part of the discussion.

The word savage shows up in the U.S. Declaration of Independence when Thomas Jefferson referred to my ancestors as "merciless savages."

We know that document will never be changed. Nor will the sting ever be removed. However, we can agree Jefferson was wrong to refer to American Indians as being such.

I personally do not like the term.

phyphor4 karma

So I sometimes have need to refer to the First People of various locales (as distinct to those populations who may have migrated/colonised and now live there and have their own descendants) and have been called out for using the term "Aboriginal people of X" because it's believed only the first people of Australia should be called Aborigines. On the other hand I get told "First People" is for the North American populations, only.

If I have other political reasons for avoiding the use of the word "native" (not least because that can imply the people that were born and live there now) am I best off using a single term, or both terms (although there's some duplication)?

LeviRickert10 karma

Actually, most American Indians like to refer to their tribal affilations. As we know some of the terms such as Indian and Native American are misnomers. I sometimes tell people I really don't care which they use. Treating people with respect is the most important thing we should be concerned with in life.

LizardOrgMember53 karma

What's your take on Thanksgiving? What would be your narrative when it comes to informing people about Thanksgiving?

LeviRickert16 karma

The typical version of Thanksgiving is a constructed history the puts a spin of harmony. A closer examination of history reveals, the tribe was basically wiped out soon thereafter.

SouthwestAndDagget2 karma

Good morning Sir, thank you for conducting this AMA.

Where do you stand on the boom of casinos being built on reservations?

LeviRickert3 karma

Indian gaming brought in $32 billion...much needed money to a people that have been deemed the most poorest. However, I love those tribes that are thinking beyond gaming when it comes to economic development as they build their tribal economies.

gggjennings2 karma

You bring up the idea of ancestors, which is in my opinion a pretty powerful part of Native American spirituality and mysticism and history. How do modern Native Americans connect to this idea of "ancestors", or has a lot of that mysticism been lost?

LeviRickert1 karma

level 1kierkegaardians1 point · 2 hours ago

Many Americcan Indians I know still think in terms of our ancestors to give guidance for our lives today.

Tragabigzanda2 karma

I'm preparing to start a podcast here in Montana, and intend to cover some stories from the reservations. What do you think are some of the most pressing issues for Native Americans that urgently need more in-depth coverage?

LeviRickert3 karma

Please follow Native News Online on regular basis. We cover the issues such as sovereignty, mascots, court cases, among others that highlight the top issues impacting Native people today.

anonymous5432102 karma

What are some of the top current news topics related to your tribe or Native Americans in general?

LeviRickert5 karma

The threat to tribal sovereignty. Here is one article that is about a real threat posted on Native News Online on Saturday:


LunoLife2 karma


LeviRickert3 karma

The First Nations people are fighting for environmental justice. Additionally, there is high concern about missing Native women missing and murdered at outrageous rates.

kierkegaardians1 karma

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this, Mr. Rickert.

How has the current administration impacted the Native American community and what stories are left out of mainstream media that you feel we should know about?

LeviRickert2 karma

The current administration is not favorable towards American Indian concerns overall...There is a major erosion of our sovereign rights that is currently unfolding that will have negative impacts on Indian Country for a long time.

jimhalpertignorantsl0 karma


LeviRickert3 karma

Embrace your Native heritage with pride and humility.

Charemanmeow-2 karma

Would a protest asserting your views help you, or would it hurt you?

LeviRickert6 karma

I believe educating non-Native people is the best means. Even our lawmakers are ignorant as to many our reasons for the positions we take when it comes to American Indian sovereignty, concerns, history and treaties.

LieutenantLithium-2 karma

I am so happy that you are doing this. I may not be a Native American but I firmly believe that your history and culture out weighs the importance of a man who wasn’t the first person to discover the new world. As a fan of history, I hope that you are represented as the man who made today’s holiday what it should be called. How long have you been advocating this change and since then have you made any big break throughs?

LeviRickert6 karma

I have been involved with American Indian rights issues for decades...I do like the progress being made.

Nokipeura-7 karma

what's your favorite brand of whiskey?

LeviRickert2 karma

I'm a non-alcoholic drinker...no clue!

MartyVanB-10 karma

Where are they still teaching that Columbus "discovered" America?

LeviRickert8 karma

The concept is still being taught in many schools.