“The Indigenous discovered Columbus,” expressed Chance Landry, a Native American artist, activist, and a descendant of one of the five great chiefs of the Lipan Apache of Texas.
October 9 celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day, formerly recognized in the US as Columbus Day. To honor the history and culture of this Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Chance completed painting a historical artwork titled "13 Sins In The Name of Christ."
Chance’s paintings are based on the accounts of the Indies’ devastation such as Bartolomé de las Casas’ "A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies," written in 1542. These paintings are a “visual depiction of written history” cross-referenced with historical and modern maps. Chance aimed “to convey a statement about religion and its inherent contradictions.”
Upon Columbus’ arrival to the Americas in 1492, he asserted his claim over Indigenous land in the name of Christ. The religious statement appears most emphatically in the number 13 in the artwork’s title—twelve paintings represent the twelve apostles while the 13th represents Jesus Christ.
Chance’s 13 paintings tell the true story of the sinful “atrocities committed against Indigenous people in the Americas.” Each painting conveys hyper-realistic insight into the violent invasion and colonization of the Americas.
Chance’s shockingly graphic, yet visionary art inspired me, an Irish writer living in America, to reflect on my own understanding of the day’s significance.
Unexpectedly, the tragic narrative of her artwork evoked my personal reflection on Irish history.
I suppose it is rare for an Irish and Apache to meet. Fortunately, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the US and helped make it possible. I have always felt drawn to Indigenous art, music, and literature since moving to America. This appreciation was cultivated in my youth as I was surrounded by art in my family home in Ireland. My mother was an artist, and my father collected Native American art, sculptures, and books.
Ironically, it was a book called "Lies my Teacher Told Me" by James W. Loewen, that connected me with Chance. The book was a profound account of the biased Eurocentric lens, and the historical inaccuracies of the Columbus discovery narrative. I was appalled by the lies my history teachers taught me in the Irish school system about Columbus. I decided to seek out any surviving Indigenous communities in Texas. Luckily, I found Chance’s Southern Apache Museum in 2010, and our friendship began.
Many people are still unaware of the traumatic impact that Columbus Day has on the Indigenous community. The changing of the name to Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an empowering act of reclaiming that history, but 12 US states continue to celebrate Columbus Day.
Although a different historical context, the closest equivalent figure to Columbus from Irish history is Oliver Cromwell. Both figures are responsible for the brutal massacre and genocide of indigenous populations, and they are also emblematic of further colonialism. Cromwell emotionally impacts and triggers the Irish consciousness in the same way that Columbus emotionally impacts and triggers the Indigenous consciousness.
From an artistic perspective, Chance’s "13 Sins" seeks to heal the wounds for those still suffering from generational trauma. People can only heal from history if “the truth is on canvas.” Created to heal the trauma, Chance’s vibrant brushstrokes depict strikingly poignant historical moments—her colors paradoxically open the dark wound of history to let the light of truth shine through—to heal the dark wounds with color.
Chance reveals: “These paintings were extremely difficult to paint due to violent subject matter, so it took me almost ten years to complete. I would begin to work on it then I’d start crying a couple of hours. I would go back to it and start crying. I would put it away sometimes for days, sometimes for months. I knew that when I went back to it, it would be too painful. That’s why it took me so long to paint them because it was just an extremely painful project, and the subject matter was excruciating to deal with mentally.”
The first painting, “The Birth and Legacy of Europeans in the Americas,” establishes the tone of the artwork. Two conquistadors strike down the central figure, a pregnant Indigenous woman, with their swords. In this depiction, they rip her baby from her womb with their swords and then decapitate it. The figure in the background holding the flag is Columbus who appears to be both piercing the land and the indigenous woman’s head with his flagpole. This hauntingly savage image is just one of 13 that equally portrays the graphic, violent nature of historical genocide in the Americas.
Chances’ signature artistic style—part vivid hyper realism and part caricature—is evocative to experience. As I reflected on her paintings and read her commentary about Indigenous history, a part of Irish history cast its colonial shadow over me. For whatever reason, I kept seeing Cromwell and his men in place of Columbus and his men in the images. The paintings unexpectedly projected back to me images that I recall from my own study of the colonial history of Ireland—I was seeing Cromwell in Columbus.
In Chance’s painting “For Those That Say That Was Then and This Is Now,” I saw Cromwell’s letter justifying his massacre at the Siege of Drogheda as a “righteous judgment of God upon these barbarous wretches.”
In “Demons Of Genocide Stealing Land and The Indigenous Way Of Life,” I saw the loss of Irish land and way of life because of the Penal Laws after the Cromwellian campaign of 1649.
Through these flashbacks of Irish history, I deeply empathized with Chance’s historical flashbacks of Indigenous history. I imagined if I were indigenous, it would be traumatic to suffer through Columbus Day. I felt lucky that Ireland never had to celebrate Cromwell Day.
Chance’s "13 Sins In The Name of Christ" speaks more than a thousand words—it speaks a million truths—for the millions of Indigenous people impacted by Columbus’ colonial atrocities. The artwork is a symbolic touchstone and an educational resource for those seeking to learn the truth about Indigenous history. Chance hopes to create a positive narrative through sharing her art—a narrative that increases awareness and peacefully encourages healing and unity for all people to “visually see the truth, not lies.”
Chance’s artwork transforms Picasso’s surrealist definition that “Art is a lie that makes us realize a truth” to a historically factual definition: Art is a truth that makes us realize a greater truth.
What better way to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day than to realize this greater truth of Indigenous history through the transformative power of her art?
An exhibit of "13 Sins In The Name of Christ" will be unveiled in Houston on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 9, and the paintings will be available online here.
*Eamon O’Caoineachan is a freelance writer and poet with a Master in Liberal Arts in English and Irish Studies from the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas.