Protest signs lined the streets during the Columbus Day parade in Denver, Colorado in 2011. This year's event was so small, some couldn't even find it.

War on Columbus

Carol Berry

Though the war on Christopher Columbus and his invasion has been fought for two decades or more in the Western hemisphere, Denver, Colorado has been a key headquarters of resistance since 1989, when the American Indian Movement of Colorado (AIM) embarked on a program to reveal the true Columbus and his legacy of suffering, both accounts largely absent from history books, and where a handful of dissenters swelled to thousands at the protests’ height.

But the Columbus Day parade in Denver this year was “small—it was no big deal,” said one police officer in a downtown office. Some potential parade-goers were unable to find the small gathering, observers said of the event that has been a focal point for anti-Columbus activists in the past.

In 1907, Colorado became the birthplace of the holiday but some of its citizens are not alone in objecting to the celebration today. In the last three years, and sometimes earlier, others have abandoned, renamed, revised or replaced Columbus Day. The entities include the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund, Navajo Nation (which has replaced Columbus Day with an April 4 Navajo Nation Sovereignty Day), Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Tohono O’odham Nation, Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, Jicarilla Apache Tribe, and Gila River Indian Community.

Cities that have changed their celebrations include Berkeley, California, which now celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day, Portland, Oregon and Duluth, Minnesota. A number of states have come on board as well including Alaska, South Dakota, which celebrates Native American Day, Hawaii, which celebrates Discoverers’ Day, Nevada, and Alabama. There are also several colleges and universities throughout the country that hold anti-Columbus Day events. Although Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations’ tribal offices remain open on the holiday, the Osage Nation and United Keetoowah Band’s tribal offices close and the tribes refer to the day as Osage Day and Native American Day, respectively.

“For Native Americans, Columbus Day should not be a day of celebration,” said a Mississippi Choctaw Band Chief. “His arrival on our shores marked the beginning of centuries of exploitation of our people and our land. Much better that we should celebrate our rich culture and our traditions.”

“To me, I am really excited Gov. [George] Mickelson made the effort to change the holiday,” said Dani Daugherty, an attorney who works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Aberdeen, South Dakota. “The main reason is that I don’t think we should be honoring Columbus” since the records are “filled with atrocities,” she told the Aberdeen News.

The 350-member Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas has, since 1992, referred to the day as the International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. Columbus has even had a major role in television’s “The Sopranos,” when Italians and American Indians traded jabs over his honoring. In public schools across the U.S., some parents’ complaints about the sugar-coated invasion go unheard, despite alternative curricula available.

Several anti-Columbus groups assembled today in the southern Colorado community of Pueblo, where the first parade honoring Columbus was held in 1905. From 100 to 150 people from Denver and other communities attended the peaceful gathering, which drew AIM and such other groups as Deep Green Resistance, Occupy Denver and people from the White Clay, Nebraska protest.

In key ways, the Columbus opposition is not conducting a war of aggression but a defensive action, says Glenn Morris, Shawnee, a professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Denver and a long-time AIM leader. “We’ve been under attack for 500 years but they’re making it sound like we’re attacking Italians and Italian culture. The legacy of Columbus is represented in the Doctrine of Discovery. What they’re celebrating on Columbus Day is not Columbus—what they’re celebrating is the Doctrine of Discovery, which benefitted them and dispossessed Indian people of 2 billion acres of territory.”

Robert Chanate, Kiowa, former tactician for AIM, said, “What we were really successful at was marginalizing the parade in Denver. Very few people attend the parade and it’s not a featured event like other city parades. Another fortunate outcome of our opposition to the holiday was the alliances we developed with other Indigenous Peoples and organizations. We were able to use the publicity of that day to call attention to various indigenous struggles that are happening in the present, not in 1492.”

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bertkaulaity2's picture
Submitted by bertkaulaity2 on
Going to contact our governors office today to get some info on changing this holiday.

dexter's picture
Submitted by dexter on
The Dine Nation established Sovereignty Day to celebrate the US Supreme Court's decision that based the Nation's ability to tax on its sovereign status (Kerr McGee, decided April 18, 1985).