Protesters Demand End to Columbus Day on Albuquerque’s First Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Demonstrators rallied and marched for indigenous rights and against Columbus Day in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico on Monday, that city’s first-ever Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The crowd swelled to several hundred people, mostly Native Americans and their allies, by the time activists began speaking shortly after 5:00 p.m. The protesters called for an abolition of the federal and state Columbus Day holiday, an end to violence against Native Americans, respect for treaty rights, cessation of corporate and government exploitation of indigenous resources, and an end to racist sports mascots.
Carrying signs reading “Abolish Columbus Day Worldwide,” “Hands off Native Land and Water” and other messages, the protesters chanted Native power slogans as they marched from Central Avenue and 1st Street to City Plaza and Albuquerque Police headquarters.
“We don’t need to celebrate Columbus,” protester and Albuquerque resident Miles August told Moral Low Ground. “He enslaved a lot of people and he brought over a lot of diseases that massacred the population. Later, Cortez enslaved all of Mexico, Pizarro did the same in Peru… It was awful.”
“Albuquerque is one of nine cities that have declared today Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and I am very happy to be here in the streets celebrating today,” said Alma Rosa, who is Mexica Azteca and lives in Albuquerque. “It’s time to let go of Columbus Day rhetoric. We all know Columbus didn’t ‘discover’ anything.”
The protesters, who were organized by the activist coalition Red Nation, were buoyed by a recent City Council resolution declaring the first Tuesday in October—the federal Columbus Day holiday—as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The council voted 6-3, with three Republicans dissenting, in favor of the measure.
“If somebody is going to celebrate genocide, I have every right to push back by celebrating humanity on the same day,” outgoing City Council President Rey Garduño told the Albuquerque Journal. “For me, this is a human rights issue and a social justice issue.”
Red Nation co-founder Melanie Yazzie told the Journal that observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an acknowledgement of the “resistance and resilience of native peoples, and sends the clear message that it’s not OK to celebrate genocide.”
Columbus, the Genoese explorer who ‘discovered’ the Americas and claimed them for the Spanish crown in 1492, ushered in centuries of genocide, enslavement, disease and brutality in which the indigenous population of the hemisphere was nearly wiped out.
Estimates of the pre-Columbian indigenous population of the Americas vary greatly, with most scholars believing that around 50 million people inhabited the Western hemisphere at the time of first contact with European explorers. Estimates of the North American indigenous population in 1492 range from just over 2 million (Ubelaker 1976) to 7 million people (Russell Thornton) to as many as 18 million (Dobyns 1983).
The vast majority of indigenous Americans were killed by diseases introduced by Europeans, but large numbers also fell victim to warfare, enslavement, massacres, forced relocation and degradation and deprivation of essential natural resources. By 1890, the US Census Bureau counted just 248,000 indigenous people remaining in the country.
A growing number of US cities and towns have passed resolutions or ordinances rejecting Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. These include: San Antonio; Seattle; Portland; Minneapolis; St. Paul; Berkeley, California; Santa Cruz, California; Lawrence, Kansas; Olympia, Washington; Anadarko, Oklahoma, Alpena, Michigan and Traverse City, Michigan.