[The following appeared on a full page of the Rocky Mountain News on Saturday, October 8, 1994.]
An Open Letter From the AMERICAN INDIAN MOVEMENT of Colorado and Our Allies
When the Taino Indians saved Christopher Columbus from certain death on the fateful morning of October 12, 1492, a glorious opportunity presented itself for the cultures of both Europe and the Americas to flourish.
What occurred was neither glorious nor heroic. Just as Columbus could not, and did not, "discover" a hemisphere already inhabited by nearly 100 million people, his arrival cannot, and will not, be recognized by indigenous peoples as a heroic and festive event.
>From a Native perspective, Columbus' arrival was a disaster from the beginning. Although his own diaries reveal that he was greeted by the Tainos with the most generous hospitality he had ever known, he immediately began the enslavement and slaughter of the Indian peoples of the Caribbean.
Defenders of Columbus and his holiday argue that critics unfairly judge Columbus, a 15th Century product, by the moral and legal standards of the late 20th century. Such a defense implies that there were no legal or moral constraints on actions such as Columbus' in 1492. In reality, European legal and moral principles acknowledged the natural rights of Indians and prohibited their slaughter or unjust wars against them.
The issue of Columbus and Columbus Day is not easily resolvable by dismissing Columbus, the man. Columbus Day is a perpetuation of racist assumptions that the Americas were a wasteland cluttered with dark skin savages awaiting the blessings of European "civilization." Throughout this hemisphere, educational systems and the popular media perpetuate the myth that indigenous peoples have contributed nothing to the world, and, consequently, we should be grateful for our colonization, our dispossession, and our microwave ovens.
The racist Columbus legacy enables every country in this hemisphere, including the United States, to continue its destruction of Indian peoples, from the jungles of Brazil to the highlands of Guatemala, from the Chaco of Paraguay to the Western Shoshone Nation in Nevada. Indian people remain in a perpetual state of danger from the system begun by Columbus in 1492. The Columbus legacy throughout the Americas keeps Indian people at the bottom of every socio-economic indicator. We are under continuing physical, legal and political attack, and are afforded the least access to political and legal remedies. Nevertheless we continue to resist and we refuse to surrender our spirituality, to assimilate, or to disappear into Hollywood's romantic sunset.
To dignify Columbus and his legacy with parades, holidays and other celebrations is repugnant. As the original peoples of this land, we cannot, and we will not, tolerate social and political festivities that celebrate our genocide. We are committed to the active, open, and public rejection of disrespect and racism in its various forms--including Columbus Day and Columbus Day parades.
For the past five years the American Indian Movement of Colorado and our allies have been compelled to confront and resist the continuing Columbus legacy in the streets of Denver. For every hour spent organizing non-violent opposition to the Columbus parade, we have lost an hour that we were not able to use in assisting indigenous treaty rights struggles, land recovery strategies, and the advancement of indigenous self-determination.
However, one positive benefit of our efforts was the public debate over Columbus Day that has spread into the public schools as an educational tool for students and their teachers. Overall, we view the demise of the Columbus Day Parade in Denver as a welcome opportunity to move beyond the divisive symbolism of the past.
We therefore suggest the replacement of Columbus Day with a celebration that is more inclusive and that more accurately reflects the cultural and racial richness of the Americas. We also suggest that the community support a more honest portrayal of social evolution in this hemisphere and a greater respect for all people on the margins of the dominating society. There is no more appropriate place for this transformation to occur than in Colorado, the birthplace of the Columbus Day holiday.
Aigis Publications, Alpha Communications Development Corporation, Susan Altes, American Friends Service Committee of Colorado, Sue Anderson, Auraria Democratic Socialists of America, Veronica Barela, Isabella Beeson, Mary A. Celeste Esq., Barbara and Mark Cohen, Crusade for Justice-Arturo Rodriguez Jr., Denver Justice and Peace Committee, Annabelle Eagle, Escuela Tlatelolco, Four Winds Project, Ramona Eagle Frost, Gay and Lesbian Americans, Nita Gonzales, Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, Bunny Gordon, Linda Head and Patrick Erwin, Beverly Eagle Harlan, Helen Henry, Gary De Herrera, Daisy Eagle Herrera, Linda Eagle Hight, Hispanics of Colorado, James and Nan Hobart, Jerry and Karen Jacks, Wanda Jackson, Dante James, Richard K. Jung, Brian Kirkpatrick and friends, Living Waters Indian Ministry, the Lord Family, Making Waves! Asians in Action, Albert A. Martinez, Glenda and Christie Montague, New Jewish Agenda, Newsed Community Development Corporation, Sonia Pena, Ann Putsche, Sage Douglas Remington, William Reynard, Rev. and Mrs Harold Rickard, Deborah Rhine, Rocky Mountain Peace Center, Steffi Rossi, Q Magazine, Mary Saragosa, Mark Sass, Magdalen Seaman, Marc Sills, Gloria Tanner, Barbara Theimer, U.S. West Colorado Pluralism Council, U.S. West Voice of Many Feathers, Inez Valladres, Robert and Louise West, Lynda Yardley.
This statement represents the position of the:
American Indian Movement of Colorado
P.O. Box 481593
Denver, CO 80248-1593
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