Calls to alter or abolish Columbus Day are coming from various quarters, including leftists, Native Americans, and black power advocates. To mark the date, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, will officially observe what it calls “Indigenous Peoples Day.” The Albuquerque city council proclaimed the change with a vote on October 7. The measure passed with a 6-3 vote: a development that Melanie Yazzie, a Navaho who co-founded “Red Nation” – an activist organization – greeted as “extraordinary.” A protest march is planned for October 12, when the rest of the country marks the federally-recognized official holiday.
The proclamation issued by the council reads in part:
“Whereas, Albuquerque recognizes the occupation of New Mexico’s homelands for the building of our City and knows indigenous nations have lived upon this land since time immemorial and values the progress of our society accomplished through and by American Indian thought, culture, and technology…..Albuquerque encourages businesses, organizations and public entities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day which will be used to reflect on the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that our Indigenous nations add to our City…”
Yazzie said that the national movement to abolish Columbus Day is “spreading like wildfire,” being fanned by renewed nativist activism not seen since the turbulent 1970s, which witnessed the deadly 1973 Wounded Knee incident between federal law enforcement and armed nativists on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Albuquerque is one of more than twelve other cities and counties that have similarly recognized Indigenous Peoples Day as a substitute for the federal observance of Columbus Day. “We’re going forward in a way I haven’t seen in my life,” Yazzie said. “In terms of history, we’re making it right now.” Yazzie is a member of the faculty at the University of Colorado, a public institution. The Red Nation nativist organization says that four U.S. states with large populations of “natives” do not celebrate Columbus Day, including Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon and South Dakota. In a statement, Red Nation declared “The international movement to abolish Columbus Day has gained traction in the last four decades,” the Red Nation wrote, tracing the contemporary movement to the International Indian Treaty Council’s 1977 call for a global end to the Columbus celebration and its replacement with the International Day of Solidarity and Mourning with Indigenous Peoples.
Retiring Albuquerque City Council President Rey Garduño (D), who sponsored the proclamation, spoke of his Genízaro ancestors: Navaho, Hope, Kiowa and other Native Americans who were enlisted by Spanish conquerors as servants. When the Pueblo people rose up in revolt in 1680, the Spanish and their local allies fled towards Mexico along what are now the borderlands, he explained in a news conference. An African-American activist, Jewell Hall, who is a former school board member of Rio Rancho, denounced Christopher Columbus for introducing the African slave trade to the Americas after 1492. She recalled being raised by a great-grandmother who had been born in slavery in Louisiana, who told her that Native Americans would come to the aid of African Americans. “I’m only three generations from slavery…” Hall said. “I rode in the back of the bus. I was called nigger. I was accosted in Texas, Louisiana, up north in Michigan.”
Activist Yazzie spoke about the demands she and other marchers will make on October 12. Some grievances date back to the arrival of the first Spanish and European explorers and settlers in the 1500s. For example, she noted that death of Acoma Pueblo people by a Spanish expedition in 1599; the forced 1864 relocation by the federal government of the Navaho (a.k.a. Dine) and Mescalero Apaches to the Bosque Redondo camp in New Mexico; and the contamination of the Río Puerco with uranium tailings by a United Nuclear Corporation spill at Church Rock, New Mexico, in 1979.
Other complaints were of a much more recent vintage: the murder of two Navaho men in Albuquerque, and the mistaken release of toxic sludge from an abandoned gold mine this year by an EPA contractor.
Another Red Nation activist, Paige Murphy, said that their movement aims to evict corporations from Native lands. “We’ve got to say hands off sacred Native land and water,” Murphy said. “This is a crisis, and we demand an emergency response,” she added.
Others who expressed support at the press conference for Indigenous Peoples Day, and nativist causes, included Joe Stacey of Southwest Organizing Project, Samia Assed – a Palestinian-American who serves on the board of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. Assed compared the Native American and Palestinian movements.
Also speaking at the event was Rev. Francis Quintana of the Blessed Oscar Romero Catholic Community, which is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. He denounced the recent recognition of Saint Junipero Serra by Pope Francis, saying that Serra had played a role in oppressing Native Americans. “Saints should lead the way and not be of their times.” Serra, however, “had no expansive vision,” he insisted.
Quintana leads the Ecumenical Catholic Communion in Albuquerque along with his partner of 16 years, Ted Bolz. According to his website, he is a long-standing advocate of LGBQT issues and was once the pastor of St. Mary’s Anglican parish in Denver.
Native American activists were evident on October 10 in Washington D.C. at the so-called Million Man March, which was organized by the leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. An as yet unidentified woman chanted "Down, down, USA," in a speech that followed remarks by Red Wind Nation chief Ernie Longwalker. Chief Longwalker claimed that fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gadafi is "still alive," despite video footage taken during the toppling of his government that showed his murder at the hands of revolutionists.