Indigenous Peoples Rally at Columbus Circle - Saturday, October 12

by matthew bradley 1:38pm Tue Oct 15 '02 (Modified on 8:50pm Tue Oct 15 '02)
address: washington, dc matt-at-machination-dot-org

Under a permit issued to the Grey Panthers, the American Indian Movement sponsored a rally at Columbus Circle on Saturday, October 12th. Speakers of native descent shared experiences from their history and current efforts in the movement for indigenous rights and reparations.

Saturday - October 12, 2002 - Washington, D.C.

After a brief misunderstanding between the Park Police and the National Columbus Celebration, the rally organized by the American Indian Movement and sponored by the Grey Panthers began Saturday morning in Columbus Circle on the west half of the sidewalk and grass facing the U.S. Capitol. The statue of the infamous trader and mercenary Christopher Columbus loomed over those assembled against an overcast sky.

Opening up the speakers, after a welcome by John Steinbach, was a prayer from Margarito Esquino of the Association of Indigenous Salvadoreans. The words of the prayer, translated into English by Gabrielle Tayac, included both recognition of the millions dead, homage to the ancestors of the indigenous and a humbly stated request that we all move forward in peace as people on this land. Mr. Esquino asked that the ancestors bless the gathering and this spot - a spot, while now developed over 200 years years ago in the seat of power of a nation of Colonial Settlers, that is still Piscataway tribal land. Mr. Esquino said Columbus was "the person who brought hate, anger... to the people of this continent" and that "we indian people are not here to bring hate or anger to anyone. We're here to bring peace and to pay for peace in the Americas."

Following was Ms. Tayac, of the Piscataway Indian Nation and a handful of other speakers.

The speakers reminded the audience that the resistence of the natives who had been eventually nearly totally slaughtered by the western expanding Europeans, eager for more than they needed to survive, had never quite ended. The plight of Leonard Peltier was brought to the forefront by a large banner and speeches noting the illegal federal oppression brought upon native organizers, and those who worked in open solidarity with them, trying to regain their lands and rights stolen from them.

According to John Steinbach, the unemployment rate of indigenous peoples on reservations is a disproportionate 50% and life expectency is is "worse than some third world countries."

Also in attendence was a 97 year old woman of native decent, named Louisa. She is an organier and has been involved in the movement for many decades. Damu Smith from the Institute for Policy Studies spoke after a last minute invitation. He tied in the policies against Indigenous Americans to Apartheid, the Israel/Palestine conflict and delcared it blatant racsim and hypocrisy for the United States to enforce the divide, steal the money and resources of the natives, and then support the end to apartheid in South Africa (but not until after the movement organisers were also labeled terrorists by the United States). The last to speak was Vernon Bellecourt, a founding member of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Bellecourt launched into a fervent panegyric on the 510 years of resistance to oppression as he saw it. Calling Columbus a man "best described as a colonial pirate, murderer and butcher," he recited from the trader's own journals how Columbus described the people he happened upon as being "with such love and compassion that they would give you their heart if they could." And then Bellecourt described decades of murderous acts against those same people by Columbus and those who followed him. He ended on a note about United Nations and other world-level forums on the plight of indigenous around the world. He noted that each group had a term for these original people, indigenous to each continent and how those people in their own langauges had their own proper known to describe themselves - "The People."

After Bellecourt spoke and the rally was over, an individual, it isn't clear (to this observer) who it was, threw a jar with a reddish-brown liquid against the statue of Columbus. It was later reported, Monday morning on Democracy Now to be a jar of Vernon Bellecourt's blood; A deeply symbolic gesture of resistance and solidarity with centuries of indigenous blood already spilled, and still being spilled today.

The police then ordered the event "shut down" - despite it already being over. They did not try to investigate or discover who the individual was who engaged in the throwing. Rather, they tried to force what was left of the peaceful rally attendees - many had dispersed, and their number was well under 25, to leave despite the action obviously not being one of mass participation.

O12 global reports | Mexico |