Yesterday, people in New York City rallied around Native Americans with a variety of actions, from Indigenous People’s Day celebrations that highlighted the diversity of native culture and recounted people’s histories of resistance, to a direct action that shut down the West Side Highway calling for an end to the present day state violence against indigenous peoples.
In whole, thousands of New Yorkers displayed solidarity with the nationwide movement to end Columbus Day and replace it with an Indigenous People’s Day.
The event on Randall’s Island was hosted by the American Indian Community House, Redhawk Native American Arts Council, and the United Federation of Taino People. Starting with a sunrise celebration and continuing into all all-day community circle that highlighted song, dance, storytelling, spoken word, and prayer, the event celebrated the diverse, unique cultures of American Indian peoples.
“There is no word for ‘thank you’ in Cherokee,” one speaker explained. “It is built into the language and culture. Gratefulness and appreciation are built into every exchange.”
As this celebration wound down on Randall’s Island, another began in the heart of Manhattan at the Ya Ya Network.
African, Latino, and Native American students and teachers spoke and read poems about their personal experiences with state violence, elucidating the roots of this modern oppression in the violent colonization of this country, which many people celebrated with a parade just blocks away.
Members of the Black Panthers and Young Lords spoke of their resistance movements, their successes and failures, and how the state, in the history of colonization, ultimately crushed them.
But these elders seemed hopeful in the long fight against oppression, noting that despite the violence perpetrated against them, we sat in a room together, planning to continue fighting back.
Poet Christopher “Chilo” Cajigas presented a comprehensive history of “Latino” people and this country’s history with immigration, then dropped a powerful spoken word about the entire debate around “Illegal Immigration” in this county, which you can see in the video below.
In the lead-up to Columbus Day, the progressive Italian American organizers behind “No More Columbus Days” reached out to the organizers of the Italian-American annual parade and Italian American groups involved, asking them to reconsidered, and encouraged others to call, Facebook, and tweet at the groups throughout the day.
The waves on social media were impressive, though they did not get an official response.
“I don’t expect to get an official response,” said Ms. Basile who continues to lobby Italian-Americans to be sensitive to the indigenous perspective, “But there is more and more noise about ending Columbus Day, and we think it is important for Italians to show support for this, to add their voices to the call.”
“Italian Americans have a rich tradition of struggle – an immigrant struggle, a workers struggle,” she noted. “Even Columbus Day itself comes from that struggle. It was created during the height of anti-Italian sentiment in America, as a way to elevate our status and foster good will. We just picked the wrong guy to celebrate, that’s all. It is time we admit this historical mistake and continue to support oppressed people rather than becoming the oppressors by ignoring the plight of others.”
The last event held on Indigenous People’s Day in NYC highlighted this current plight of Native Americans.
Organized as part of their weekly actions for victims of police violence, NYC Shut It Down dedicated this People’s Monday to Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a pregnant Lakota woman deprived medical care until she died in a South Dakota jail.
As part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, NYC Shut It Down focuses on direct action to disrupt the status quo and draw attention to the ignored and oppressed.
Yesterday, they shut down establishments from Whole Foods to the Trump Tower to read the facts of Sarah Lee Circle Bear’s unjust death in custody.
They also shut down the streets of NYC to draw attention to the staggering disproportionate rate at which our culture kills and oppresses Native Americans.
“In the United States today, Native women like Sarah Lee Circle Bear are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white women,” they noted. “And Native people are the most likely people to be killed by the police, followed by black people.”
“Native Youth,” they noted, “make up just one percent of the population, “but account for 70% of all federally incarcerated youth.” (source: Lakota People’s Law Project)
The group was heavily harassed by the NYPD, who threatened them with arrest for minor disruptions of traffic while they drew attention to the disruption of people’s lives through state sanctioned murder, and the disruption of entire cultures through neo-colonialism.
Overall, the events throughout the day showed widespread support for ending Columbus Day in NYC, as other cities have done across the nation.
And it even more clearly demonstrated the resounding reasons that people should not celebrate Columbus and should instead celebrate Indigenous Peoples, especially in a city that is supposed to be a beacon of progressivism for the rest of the country.
Sadly, New York City’s top elected official fell in-line with the oppressive tendencies of his police force, than the people advocating for justice in society.