Protesters knock down Portland statues in 'rage' toward Columbus Day
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Protesters in Portland overturned statues of former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and vandalized the Oregon Historical Society in a declaration of "rage" toward Columbus Day.
Protest organizers dubbed the event "Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage," in response to Monday's federal holiday named after 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, a polarizing figure who Native American advocates have said spurred centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.
The group Sunday night threw chains around Roosevelt's statue, officially titled "Theodore Roosevelt, Rough Rider." They splashed red paint on the monument and used a blowtorch on the statue's base, news outlets reported.
The statue was pulled down by the crowd just before 9 p.m. The group later turned their attention toward Lincoln's statue, pulling it down about eight minutes later.
Historians have said Roosevelt expressed hostility toward Native Americans, once saying: "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are ..."
Protesters spray-painted "Dakota 38" on the base of Lincoln's statue, referencing the 38 Dakota men Lincoln approved to have hanged after the men were involved in a violent conflict with white settlers in Minnesota.
After toppling the statues, the crowd smashed windows at the Oregon Historical Society and later moved onto the Portland State University Campus Public Safety office.
A quilt sewn by 15 Black women from Portland in the mid-1970s was among the items damaged, Oregon Historical Society executive director Kerry Tymchuk said Monday in a statement.
Each square of the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt honors a Black individual or moment in history. The quilt that had been given to the museum for safekeeping was found a few blocks away and will be assessed for damage, Tymchuk said.
"As we clean up broken glass, scrub paint, and make plans to ensure safety in our building, we also, as always, welcome critique of our work," Tymchuk wrote. "We would be grateful to have constructive feedback from all those who are willing and able to aid OHS in fulfilling our vision of an Oregon story that is meaningful to all Oregonians."
Three people were arrested by police who said in a statement that multiple businesses were damaged, including a restaurant that had at least two bullets fired through its front windows.
The Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable, a partnership of 30 organizations, tribes and tribal programs in the region, issued a statement late Monday denouncing the destruction.
"Many of us have spent our lives advocating for the needs of our people and working to prevent re-traumatization of our elders and families,” said the group, whose mission is to support Portland’s Native American community. "Acting only in anger is not our way. Disavowing the teachings of our elders is not our way. Wielding weapons and stealing what is not ours is not our way. Mimicking the brutish ways of our colonizers is not our way."
The group noted the destruction at the Oregon Historical Society was "so very disappointing, especially given the great care they have given to their most recent exhibit that displays Native American history so honestly and respectfully."
It said it understands there is "justifiable righteous indignation over the unconscionable mistreatment of our people and communities over centuries," and that Indigenous People’s Day is a time to speak out against these injustices.
But it said it cannot condone "pointless acts of vandalism" that detract from the real message, that Indigenous people "continue to suffer at the will of systems designed to eradicate our self-determination, culture, economies and families."
"Until we dismantle those systems, there will be no justice," the group said.
In New Mexico, demonstrators on Monday tore down a historical monument in Santa Fe as New Mexico and Arizona marked Indigenous Peoples Day. Protesters used a rope and chain to topple an obelisk dedicated in part to the "heroes" who died in battle with "savage Indians."
The monuments are the latest statues to come down in a wave of removed monuments and protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
This story has been updated to include a statement from the Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable.
Indian Country Today staff contributed to this report.