Denver: Columbus Day Protest Widens
Smoldering and flaming, copies of two documents that initiated the destruction of Native cultures went up in smoke to loud cheers October 8, as opponents of the Columbus Day Parade in Denver widened their attack to include Wall Street, the Keystone XL pipeline, sacred sites desecration, and other manifestations of the Columbian legacy.
Burned were a Papal Bull approving the subjugation of Natives and the theft of their lands, as well as a copy of Johnson v. McIntosh, which in 1823 concocted a legal basis for the seizure of Indian lands.
It was street theater worthy of Denver’s earlier Columbus Day Parade protests, which have included the pouring of ceremonial blood in the streets, dolls representing infants killed by invading Spaniards, burnt tipis and other creative expressions of outrage.
The parade protest is almost a Denver tradition. Beginning in 1989 with about 50 dissenters, only three years later the number had swelled to more than 1,000 who, following the red banner of the American Indian Movement (AIM), shouted at parade participants for honoring Columbus, a man they called a mass murderer and slave trader.
This year, parade opponents took Wall Street to task for its human rights failures and, to a lesser extent, charged the local Occupy Wall Street group with failing to acknowledge tribal lands, including Denver, as already occupied and indigenous people as disproportionately afflicted by the fallout from the Columbus-initiated invasion of present-day North America.
Although icy rain diminished parade spectators to a handful, about 100 shouting dissenters held up posters and signs in front of barricades and a line of silent police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets. The parade opponents condemned the Columbian legacy of brutality and inequality, sacred sites desecration, and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, expected to be approved by President Barack Obama, who “will be held accountable” about it when he visits Denver October 24.
The Native dissenters in Denver are among the first who are telling the growing anti-Wall Street protest movement, including Occupy Denver, that indigenous issues should be foremost when they castigate the financial sector for corporate malfeasance and greed.
The Native critics also said they would “stand in solidarity with the Cree nations,” whose territories are located in occupied northern Alberta, Canada, in their opposition to the tar sands development, “the largest industrial project on earth.” They are requesting that Obama prohibit domestic transportation or use of tar sands-derived oil.
“If this (Occupy Denver) movement is serious about confronting the foundational assumptions of the current U.S. system, then it must begin by addressing the original crimes of the U.S. colonizing system against indigenous nations,” stated a position paper issued by local AIM. “Without addressing justice for Indigenous Peoples, there can never be a genuine movement for justice and equality in the United States.”
The Native dissidents called on Occupy Denver to adopt a number of positions that included repudiating the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, endorsing indigenous self-determination, and requiring the “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous Peoples before potentially adverse actions are taken affecting their lands or resources.
Make no mistake, one protester said, an end is still sought to Columbus Day—which began in Denver in 1907—and a farewell to the parade, sponsored by the Sons of Italy New Generation. But this year’s protestors emphasized that they don’t “hate Italians” and that the Wall Street, pipeline, and other issues are an outgrowth of the Columbian legacy of greed, excess, exploitation and materialism.
Participants in the anti-Columbus rally ranged in age from 70-plus Virginia Allrunner, Cheyenne powwow dancer and activist, to Lilliah Walker, 5, Omaha/Winnebago and Lakota. In the AIM tradition, a young girl carrying the canupa led the group confronting the parade: she was Shyela Cross, 11, Oglala Lakota.
Among coordinators of the Native youth protesting the parade were Sky Roosevelt-Morris, Shawnee/White Mountain Apache, 20; Tessa McLean, Ojibwe, 23; Scott Jacket, Ute Mountain Ute/Dine’, 24, and Glenn Morris, Shawnee, a leader of Colorado AIM and a professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Denver, all of whom addressed the demonstrators.
“We are the youth and we are here to step up to the plate,” Jacket said. Morris termed Columbus “a poster boy for imperialism and colonialism” and “the first white guy who showed up.”
Spiritual leaders were George “Tink” Tinker, Osage, of the Iliff School of Theology, and Robert Cross, Oglala Lakota. Dissenters included a loose coalition of AIM, Transform Columbus Day Alliance, Denver CopWatch, Denver Anarchist Black Cross and others.