FROM THE EDITORS: The United States is the only country in the Americas that designated October 12 as Christopher Columbus Day. The image of Columbus as a “heroic” figure for “discovering” America continues to be taught in many schools as an incontrovertible truth. Talking about the Spanish and English conquests in genocidal terms—the root of millions indigenous dead, millions more forcibly displaced, and the beginning of the shameful Atlantic slave trade—is still controversial. However, in the past few decades, a cultural shift has been taking place and seems to be now at a turning point.
As many as 10 states and several cities, including Washington DC, have been gradually renaming October 12 to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, due mostly to social pressure. Today, in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter anti-racist movement, a significant alliance has been created between Black Peoples, Native Americans, and white allies, which is very quickly working to dismantle monuments historically associated with slavery and genocide, statues of Christoper Columbus among them.
At the Minnesota State Capitol, a statue of Columbus was torn down off its pedestal by a social movement led by Native people, while the police quietly watched on the sidelines. At Byrd Park in Richmond, Virginia, Columbus ended up at the bottom of Fountain Lake. In Boston, after years of defacing and graffiti attacks to the statue, the mayor’s office finally decided to remove it after it was beheaded in the middle of the night. The Columbus statue in New London, Connecticut, was also taken down under the mayor’s orders to “protect it” because it has been painted with graffiti. In Miami, a group of 7 young people were arrested for painting the statue of Columbus, and now a group of far-right armed men are standing ground to “defend it.” Similarly, in South Philadelphia, a small group of people armed with bats and metal poles have been “defending” the Columbus statue, igniting outrage and counterprotests. The city’s mayor called them “vigilantes” while the police guarded the statue the entire night to prevent it be taken down by activists or possible confrontations. Officials from the cities of Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, also took action to remove the statues of Columbus. West Orange, NJ, will become another city to remove its Columbus statue, the mayor announced.
In the midst of it all, the National Congress of American Indians released a press release this past weekend on the removal of the statues of Christopher Columbus, which we reproduce in its entirety below:
NCAI Statement on the Removal of Christopher Columbus Statues
WASHINGTON, DC | The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country, does not acknowledge Christopher Columbus as a hero. To Indigenous peoples, he was the opposite:
“[O]ut of timbers for the Santa Maria,…Columbus built a fort [on Hispaniola], the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere…He took…Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships…[H]e got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail…When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die…
In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale. . . ”
—Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 3-4 (1980 Ed.).
This growing movement across the country to rid our shared spaces of symbols that represent hate, genocide, and bigotry illustrates that it is past time for all cities to stand on the right side of history moving forward,” said NCAI President Fawn Sharp.
NCAI also strongly supports the recent actions taken by United States citizens and the international community calling for proper law enforcement reforms and the recognition of basic human rights for the African American community and all communities of color. We are humbled that these voices are including Indian Country’s perspectives. NCAI encourages local governments and their citizens to seek mutual understandings of their diverse perspectives and to develop peaceful solutions that are mindful of all human beings and our rich distinct and shared histories. Together we can build the tomorrow our children deserve to lead.
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