Christopher Columbus statue removed from Los Angeles’ Grand Park after 45 years

Christine Hitt

Key players in removal were Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, Native American Indian Commission

Occurring on the heels of Los Angeles’ inaugural Indigenous People’s Day in October, a statue depicting Christopher Columbus — that has been sitting at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles for 45 years — was permanently removed on Saturday, November 10.

Roughly 100 people gathered for the ceremony that began with the acknowledgement of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe of Southern California, a song to honor the ancestors and a blessing.

The crowd gathers before the removal of the statue. Photo Christine Hitt

Following the ceremony were speeches by LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell; LA City Council Native American Indian Commission chair Rudy Ortega and vice-chair Chrissie Castro; Gabrielino-San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians Tribal Leader, Anthony Morales; artist River Garza; Grammy-nominated artist Irka Mateo; artist Tanya Melendez; student and activist Cheyenne Phoenix; and Marcos Aguilar of Semillas Community Schools.

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They collectively voiced their disdain of a statue for the man who did not discover America and is regarded as a symbol of oppression—the effects of which are still felt today. They also gave hopeful words for the future.

“This is another milestone that we can celebrate. Last month, we celebrated the first-ever Indigenous People’s Day in this city’s history, because we replaced Columbus Day on the city’s administrative code, and that’s what happens when the first Native American ends up on the Los Angeles city council,” said Mitch O’Farrell, the first L.A. City Councilmember of Native American heritage, from the northeast Oklahoma Wyandotte Nation.

Mitch O’Farrell, the first L.A. City Councilmember of Native American heritage, from the northeast Oklahoma Wyandotte Nation. Photo: Christine Hitt.

O’Farrell, along with Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and the LA County City-County Native American Indian Commission, worked together to fight for the removal.

“This community works together to make these things happen. It’s a natural progression that on this day the statue, the symbol of atrocity and oppression and subjugation also falls. I couldn’t be more pleased about that because what Christopher Columbus and his men encountered when they first landed in what was renamed the West Indies, the Caribbean, between the Taino and Arawak, were a people who were so completely evolved with arts and culture and humanity and sharing. Even the accounts of Columbus’ log talks about the magnificence of the people he first encounters. So what did he and his men do? Very quickly, on that very first landing, they began the enslavement of the people they first encountered.”

“I just want to acknowledge the fact that none of us stand here as individuals,” said Chrissie Castro in her speech, who’s a citizen of the Navajo Nation, and described the pain and emotion she feels as “intergenerational trauma.”

“We stand here as members of a very strong community, we stand here as members of our families and we stand here with a long line of ancestors that fought like hell so that we could be here today. And we’re not alone in that. I also just want to recognize everybody: People who are here, people who are not here, that have been fighting for this for generations. Not one person is responsible for this. It’s been decades of fight about this. And I just want to tell all of you who have demonstrated, have built artworks, have called offices, all of the actions, I just really want to appreciate all of that cause all of that together is what made this possible,” said Castro.

Taino Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Irka Mateo stands with her daughter, prior to their performance of a 500-year-old traditional song that carries the message, "We'd rather be dead than slaves." Photo: Christine Hitt

Hands in the crowd were raised to capture the removal of the statue on smartphones, and people yelled, clapped and whistled, as a crane hoisted it off its base and onto the back of a flatbed truck. Once the statue was covered with a blanket and the vehicle pulled away, the crowd erupted in cheers and continued celebrating after it left.