Denver, CO – On Monday, October 3rd, 2016, the city of Denver permanently designated the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which is celebrated federally, and on a state level in Colorado, as Columbus Day.
This decision came five days before the annual rally and march organized by the Transform Columbus Day Alliance (TCDA) to protest Columbus Day and to promote its replacement with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. During this year’s march, there had finally been a monumental shift.
Over 1,000 people rallied together for the Four Directions All Nations March on October 8th, 2016. Indigenous women led the four marches starting at each of the cardinal directions with the Capitol at the center.
Moho’ma’na, a Hopi and Dineh woman who led from the south, spoke about the influence of Troylynn Star Yellow Wood, an Indigenous leader who was honored at this year’s march:
“This march was started over 15 years ago by the Red Earth Women’s Alliance, and that is what Troylynn was a part of. She was also a part of the American Indian Movement of Colorado. We knew that in her passing this year we needed to come together as a part of our healing, but also just to honor her and all the work she did, the way she set us up to follow in the right foot steps, footsteps of our ancestors that struggled and fought and died and survived for us to even be standing here right now.“
Among the many prolific speakers, Black Lives Matter 5280 member Amy Emery-Brown spoke of the strong interconnected struggles of black and brown people, especially in relation to Columbus and colonization.
“We are here because we know of our shared struggles. We are here because we know that when we scream at the top of our lungs that ‘Black Lives Matter’ we know we are screaming for the rights of Indigenous self-determination.“
Since 1989, the TCDA has been protesting the Columbus Day parade in Denver and calling for the unequivocal abolition of the Columbus Day holiday on a local, state and national level.
According to their website:
“TCDA is an international coalition of over eighty social justice organizations who are committed to challenging traditional ethnocentric views of Columbus as pioneer and sole discoverer of the Americas, and that he, as well as colonial powers, should be celebrated for 512 years of invasion, cruelty, oppression, and cultural imperialism.“
Christopher Columbus is cherished in this country for its “founding”, however, this land was already home to millions of people before he and his peers decided they were entitled to colonize and attempt to erase the Indigenous people along with their cultures. He was also a main proprietor of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
“When gold was not found, the irate Columbus oversaw the hunting of Indians for sport and dog food. Women and girls as young as nine or 10 were used as sex slaves for the Spanish. So many Indians died under the encomienda slave system that Indians from neighboring Caribbean islands were imported, and eventually from Africa. After Columbus’s first kidnapping of Indians, he is believed to have sent as many as 5,000 Indian slaves across the Atlantic, more than any other individual.“
There are some people with Italian heritage who take offense to any nay-saying about their beloved Columbus, however there is valid skepticism of whether he was even Italian, including the fact that Italy wasn’t a country until about 350 years after his death.
On the other hand, there are also some people with Italian heritage who believe the historical facts which prove Columbus’ extreme brutality and thus don’t wish to glorify such a person.
Members of the group Progressive Italians to Transform the Columbus Holiday state:
“We absolutely condemn the celebration of Columbus as an Italian cultural icon. Columbus’ exploitation, enslavement, and mass murder in the Caribbean far outweigh any of his nautical achievements.
The celebration of Columbus in the United States is based upon an outdated notion of “discovery” that completely ignores the history of brutal colonization endured by native people as well as archaeological evidence that people had lived in this hemisphere for many centuries prior to his arrival. It is particularly important that people of Italian descent are not portrayed as perpetuating racism and oppression.“
Glenn Morris, long-time Indigenous activist and leader at Four Winds American Indian Council, spoke at the rally:
“In 1907 they hated Italians in this state. They were lynching Italians in this state. They killed more Italians than any other ethnic group at the Ludlow Massacre in this state. So don’t let them kid you that this holiday has anything to do with honoring Italians. It has to do with celebrating conquest and the destruction of Native people in our own home land.“
What makes the passage of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Denver more momentous is the history of Columbus Day in this country. Before becoming a federal holiday in 1937, Columbus Day was first celebrated in the state of Colorado in 1907.
Unfortunately, the holiday is still celebrated on a state level in Colorado, though it’s existence was fought in court this past spring and will continue to be challenged until it is eradicated.
On April 25th, 2016, the House State, Veterans and Military Committee voted 7-2 against the bill to abolish Columbus Day in Colorado. The bill was sponsored by Democratic Representative Joe Salazar.
In the photograph above, demonstrators at the rally are wearing white masks marked with “Colonizer” while name tags hang from their necks to represent each of the 7 representatives who voted against the bill.
In recent years, the Columbus Day Parade in Denver has been barely noticeable, but in 2000, Denver’s Columbus Day Parade was highly visible with 147 protesters arrested for blocking the large parade route including about 75 women who sat in the street.
This year’s parade included a small line of cars and two trucks towing replicas of Columbus’s ships with few onlookers, which fell far from the voluminous and vibrant Four Directions March celebrating Indigenous people and their continued resistance and fight for existence.
Watch our Livestream of the Four Directions All Nations March below:
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