Columbus Day draws fire

Oct 092005
Authors: Vimal Patel

Protests of the Columbus Day celebration in Denver have never been violent and this Saturday was no different, said Glenn Morris, a member of the Leadership Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado.

"They always attribute the threat of violence to us, but we have never been violent," he said of media outlets and celebration supporters. "It's because we're Indians. I think it's racist."

The protest this year included briefly blocking the parade route, Morris said, but no arrests were made. Police estimated more than 200 protestors. Morris put the number at about 1,500.

Morris said the celebration wasn't really even a parade, but rather consists of "limos, motorcycles and Hell's Angels riding around and celebrating colonialism."

"We call it 'the convoy of conquest,'" he said. "That's what it is, a convoy of motor vehicles to support genocide."

Parade organizer George Vendegnia disagreed, saying the celebration consisted of 17 floats, 18 hot rods, Aztec dancers, two marching bands, 150 motorcycles and 1,500 walkers.

"Everybody's rights were honored at this parade," he said, adding that he was very happy with this year's parade. Last year protestors were allowed to block the parade for more than two hours, he said.

In years past, the celebration has been marked by widespread arrests. American Indians upset at the celebration of Christopher Columbus, whom some call genocidal, have clashed with the Italian navigator's supporters.

Last year, 240 protestors were arrested for disorderly conduct. All were either acquitted or charges were dismissed.

"It's totally ludicrous that we would celebrate the genocide of anybody," Vendegnia said, adding that the parade is a celebration of the U.S. Constitution and American history.

Vendegnia said he celebrates Columbus Day because it's a recognized national holiday that Americans celebrate nationwide. He suggested opponents of the parade should petition the government to change the name of the holiday if they want to end it.

"It's not about Columbus," he said. "If they change (the name of Columbus Day) to Discoverer's Day, we'll call the celebration the Discoverer's Day Parade."

The Denver parade, the oldest Columbus Day celebration in the country, lacked the controversy surrounding its run-up as inflammatory professor Ward Churchill decided not to protest the Saturday event. However, he viewed the event from the parade route.

The University of Colorado professor reportedly told the campus newspaper at CU that he did not want to take away attention from the protest.

"I'm not the issue, Columbus Day is the issue," he told the paper.

Churchill, also a member of AIM's Leadership Council, garnered national attention last year when he compared some victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks to Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann. Churchill is currently under investigation for alleged plagiarism.

The American Indian Movement seeks to make city officials take a moral stand against Columbus Day and not necessarily ban the celebration, Morris said.

"If (Denver mayor John Hickenlooper) believes in human rights, he should take a stand against racism," he said.

Hickenlooper has taken fire from both sides. Protestors say he should condemn the celebration, while supporters, such as Vendegnia, say the mayor's letter in which he says he's "sick and tired" of the ongoing clash is ridiculous.

"We as Americans have to protect our Constitutional rights," Vendegnia said, referring to the importance of parade supporters to be able to march.

Morris called Hickenlooper's flimsy stance on the issue "political cowardice." He said the mayor could learn from former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who condemned a Ku Klux Klan rally in the early 90s.

Morris said the lack of outrage about the event and conducting celebrations honoring Columbus are the result of the need for people to sugarcoat their bloody history.

"People have to justify that the land they live on is stolen," he said.

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