Indigenous women confront Columbus Day parade

DENVER – Thirteen indigenous women briefly halted the city’s annual Columbus Day parade in front of the state Capitol Oct. 11 to read an initiative seeking reconciliation with parade organizers and participants.

They termed the initiative “the latest attempt to find common ground” and asked parade participants in a prepared statement “to meet in good faith, to abandon the hatred and ill will of the past, and to help to forge a new future for our succeeding generations.”

The Columbus Day parade in Denver last year resulted in more than 80 arrests for civil disobedience that resulted in misdemeanor charges of obstructing the parade route. The controversy over the Columbian legacy and the character of Columbus himself has simmered in Colorado’s capital over the last 15 years.

This year there were no arrests and the shawl-clad women left the parade route within 15 minutes, though not without some angry verbal exchanges with male parade representatives who confronted them and who issued no formal response.

The group numbered 13 because Columbus’ men burned Natives in the Caribbean in lots of 13 “in honor of Jesus and his 12 disciples,” the statement read; but “today, the delegation of 13 indigenous women is evidence that Columbus and his men failed in their attempted conquest.”

The women said that they served as “ambassadors from the indigenous community to the parade organizers” and that they “deeply respect the heritage and history of the Italian community, and are, in fact, supported by several individuals of Italian descent.”

George Vendegnia, chief parade organizer, said he “didn’t like the yelling and being called names” and was upset that precautionarypolice barricades lining the parade route were pushed aside at one point to let the women into the street.

He said he had met with Lucia Guzman, head of Denver’s Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations, and others concerning parade issues and they had “made some headway,” so he was surprised at the confrontation.

He plans to meet with Guzman and others again, he said, because “the city wants to get involved and wants to put a different light on it for everybody.”

Guzman arranged the meeting with parade organizers after the Denver American Indian Commission, an advisory group, was rebuffed in its request for the city to distance itself from the parade’s content, which had included U.S. Cavalry look-alikes offensive to many in the Native community.

The mounted cavalry was not a part of the parade this year, which was sparsely attended and smaller because of chill temperatures and a cold rain that prompted 75 planned participants to cancel, Vendegnia said.

In a rally that preceded the parade, Glenn Morris, a leader of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, said “the legacy of Columbus is the source of every single problem in this country” and that opponents want to “determine the world as it should be, not guided by oppression and racism.”

After the rally and parade, approximately 100 people met at the Iliff School of Theology to discuss a new coalition to deal with indigenous issues and social problems.

A student walkout was held Oct. 13 from a downtown campus to sites where anti-Indian events occurred in the past – where organizers said the Denver area was never ceded to the U.S. by the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Ute tribal nations under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

The walk followed part of the route taken by U.S. Cavalry soldiers who, returning from the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, displayed body parts of the massacre victims to the cheers of onlookers.

The route through the city’s Pioneer Park – termed “Invader Park” by march organizers – ended near the state Capitol, where the statue of an Indian was initially placed to face the setting sun to symbolize tribes’ collective demise, but was later placed facing east instead.

Organizers of the various events included representatives of AIM-Colorado, the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, Indigenous Training Resource Council, Indian Youth Sovereignty Project, Progressive Italians Transforming the Columbus Holiday, Save the Peaks, Black Mesa Coalition, student groups and others.