Sunday, October 12, 2003 - Native American, Chicano and other groups who blame Christopher Columbus for the genocide of millions of American Indians literally turned their backs on the annual Columbus Day parade Saturday, after organizers of the celebration refused to drop the Italian explorer's name from the parade.
In what was designed to be a peaceful protest, members of the Transform Columbus Day Alliance stood at 22nd and Blake streets in LoDo, where they hoped to "meet halfway" in the street with parade organizers before the procession started.
The arrival of the alliance was marked by tension and confusion as the group removed a barricade and stood in the street, while hundreds of Denver police, dressed in riot gear, stood just feet away.
Police Chief Gerry Whitman, who observed from feet away, said the group was in violation when they moved the barricade and stood in the middle of the street, but he said no arrests were made because they didn't want the situation to escalate. Whitman said 600 of the city's 1,400 police officers were working the parade.
Seven alliance members - including Richard Castaldo, an Italian-American and Columbine survivor, and Wallace Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota elder - stood at the intersection holding invitations for parade supporters to drop any reference to Columbus from their annual parade.
But when parade organizers, who were more than four blocks away preparing to march, refused to send a representative forward, the alliance allowed mediators to take the invitations to them.
Lucia Guzman, executive director of the Human Rights and Community Relations committee for Denver, and Philip Arreola, regional director of community relations for the Justice Department, took the formal invitation to parade committee co-chairman Tom Romolo, who read the proclamation and spoke to Guzman and Arreola as more than 1,000 people looked on quietly.
Romolo said they were willing to consider the proclamation, but it's unlikely they will change the parade name.
"If they're asking us to change the name from Columbus, then no way. Our position is that as long as Columbus Day is a federal holiday, then this parade will be called the Columbus Day Parade."
Guzman and Arreola relayed that Columbus Day Parade representatives were willing to consider their request next year. A protester, using a bullhorn, then told the crowd: "We have taken the peace declaration to them to engage in meaningful dialogue in respect of our culture. They have declined.
"Today they'll continue with their parade, but they'll take another consideration for next year," he said to cheers. "We turn our backs to this parade."
|Post / Kathryn Scott Osler|
| Theresa Schaller, right, and Albert Hernandez, join a large crowd of people on the
steps of the Capitol in Denver to protest the annual Columbus Day Parade. |
Peacefully, the wheelchairs of Castaldo and Black Elk were turned around, and they led a procession of protesters back to the state Capitol, where they had ended their own march earlier in the afternoon.
Glenn Morris, an organizer and member of the American Indian Movement, appeared frustrated.
"(We) went halfway. They refused to come halfway. That's the history of the parade in the city," he said.
But Amber Rose Belindo, a senior at the University of Colorado at Denver who organized Saturday's protest "to take back history," said there was a positive side to this year's parade - that parade organizers appeared to be willing to consider a name change.
"Before, they never said they would consider it," she said, smiling.
The two groups have clashed for more than a decade over whether Columbus is a great American hero or a murderer who some protesters compared to Adolf Hitler.
In 2000, Denver police arrested more than 140 protesters after they sat down along the parade route and refused to leave. Most charges were dropped.
Last year, seven were arrested.
Anthony Zapata, a dancer with the Aztec dance group Tlaloc who marched with the protesters Saturday, said "it's illogical to celebrate Columbus. He's not the one who discovered America. Amerigo Vespucci did," he said. "They made him a saint, but he massacred thousands of people."
Bill Fetherston and other Irish- Americans participated in the Columbus Day Parade.
"Columbus didn't bring slavery. Queen Isabella didn't condone slavery," he said. The group has "their facts wrong," said Fetherston, state president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.