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11 Oct, 2010 21:16

US Columbus Day marked with celebration and protest

For most Americans, there is no work or school. The second Monday of every October is Christopher Columbus Day, a federal holiday.

A national holiday marked with celebrations, parades and shopping bargains; all of it to honor the conquest of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and his western development of the new world. In the US Columbus means America.

But not for ReconsiderColumbusDay.org; “For way too long, Columbus created heinous crimes against the indigenous populations of the Caribbean and millions of Natives throughout the Americas. And Columbus set the stage for the slave trade in the New World.”

For Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, the landing of Columbus in the new world has another meaning; one that welcomes protests every year.

From San Juan Capistrano, California where one protester points to a plaque at a missionary, "Look here, it says to Christianize and to civilize the Indians. What are they trying to say? We are all savages? It's pure racism!"

At Boise State University in Idaho, protests condemned the treatment of Native people by Columbus; “Thank you Mr. Columbus, for humiliation, extermination, indoctrination."

At Arizona State University, students from an NGO known as Freedom Rising staged a dramatization.

"KILL HER, KILL THEM, GET RID OF THEM!" an actress shouted to a group of Native actors.

Even Rhode Island where one newscaster reported, "At Brown University – Earlier this year, Brown voted to boycott the Christopher Columbus day Holiday after 700 hundreds students signed a petition blasting Christopher Columbus' treatment of Native Americans."

It's a day of mourning for Native tribes in Washington State, Colorado and throughout the countless Indian reservations in the country.

In Washington, DC an annual ceremony honoring Columbus takes place in the backdrop of the US Capitol.

Dana Ramsey who was visiting Washington DC from Seattle, Washington said “Columbus Day is just a day off of work or a federal holiday, but coming to Washington and seeing that is makes a big difference, kinda brings it home.”

The District of Columbia was actually named after Christopher Columbus. In the US capitol, he is honored every year in this celebration behind me. For anyone traveling to DC by train, they make their way here to Union Station and one of the first things they will probably see is a lovely white stone statue. It’s dedicated to Columbus and the three flagpoles signify the three ships that brought the explorer and his crew to the new World.

People here say he discovered America, what they did was conquer the Americas,” said one protester.

But there is another opinion on display outside the White House. It’s an illustration drawing present day similarities to the suffering of Natives under Columbus.

Hendrik Voss, of the School of the Americas Watch told RT, “We are here to call attention to the continued militarization of America that started over 500 years ago with Columbus, the exploitation of Latin America through military means continues today.

To show to Latin Americans and other people, that we don’t all celebrate Columbus, we don’t think he did good things. He brought a lot of suffering to the indigenous here,” said Arturo Viscarra, a research analyst on Latin America.

Despite the historic mistreatment of Native Americans, the US has never issued a formal apology to their indigenous population as other nations have.

Although there are petitions circulating throughout the US for the federal government to renounce Columbus Day, the idea is not welcomed by most Americans.

Enrico, an Italian American said, “In my opinion we have to celebrate this man. Without him, nothing, like America, or the things we know would have happened. So for me it’s correct to celebrate this man.”

Michael Colatta, another Italian American attending the ceremony for Columbus said, “He wasn’t looking to conquer the world, I think we should still honor the day.”

In a Presidential Proclamation, Obama called upon all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities and directed that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings in honor of Christopher Columbus.

One woman watching the protest outside the White House said, “They shouldn’t be protesting it, it’s part of our history”.

It’s a day commemorating two narratives of history with two different ideas of how Columbus achieved the western development of the Americas. It reflects a history that is marked every year by honor and betrayal.