Rocky Mountain News
Columbus parade could see less strife

Churchill, conflict having an effect

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
September 24, 2005

This story incorrectly identified Glenn Morris as the chairman of the University of Colorado at Denver's political science department. He was replaced in that post this summer by professor Jana Everett.

The controversy surrounding University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill is helping transform the nature of local response to this year's Columbus Day Parade.

As usual, it's likely that Churchill, CU-Denver professor Glenn Morris and others associated with the Colorado chapter of American Indian Movement will be in the streets to protest the Oct. 8 parade.

City officials have heard rumors that protests might take the form of "street theater."

But unlike past years, when Morris, Churchill and their colleagues rallied hundreds to their cause leading to mass arrests, some American Indians and their sympathizers are determined this year to follow a less confrontational path.

Part of the shift is attributed to Churchill carrying more political baggage this year. But it's also seen as the result of many people tiring of the ritual of arrests, bookings and court dates.

"This group is saying, enough is enough," said Lucia Guzman, executive director of Denver's Agency for Human Rights and Community Relations.

She has been in contact with players on both sides of the issue as Columbus Day grows nearer and has heard former protesters say they've tired of seeing little payoff for taking their anti-Columbus Day parade position to the streets.

"Some of these folks are saying, 'We're just not going to do it anymore,' " Guzman said.

Other voices

Darius Smith, president of the Colorado Indian Education Association, said Churchill has "absolutely" been compromised as a spokesman for American Indian causes because of allegations that resulted in an investigation of Churchill's scholarship by CU's Standing Committee on Research Misconduct.

Accusations that Churchill has no American Indian ancestry (he claims to be at least one-sixteenth Cherokee and teaches ethnic studies at CU) mean he's damaged goods, some activists say.

It frustrates Smith that to many, for good or for ill, Churchill is now the most recognizable face of local American Indian activism.

"That's what has caused a lot of Indian people to be upset - I am upset - that here is somebody who continues to culturally appropriate his Indian identity, when the tribe that he has claimed (The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee) has come out and said 'No, he is not a member,' " Smith said.

Smith's group, a small nonprofit advocacy group, together with the Denver Indian Center, is coordinating a daylong symposium, Ending Colonial Legacies: Indigenous Visions for the Future, a week before the parade in part "to organize potential solutions for the yearly clash" between Columbus Day proponents and opponents.

Many American Indians and their supporters reject the holiday honoring Christopher Columbus because they hold him responsible for launching a legacy of genocide against indigenous people.

"This issue is bigger than Glenn Morris, and it's bigger than Ward Churchill," said Smith. "The legacy of colonialism is what we're concerned with addressing. We're not there to talk about Ward Churchill. That issue is being take care of, and it's running its course."

He said it is no accident that "98 percent" of the presenters at the Oct. 1 Auraria event will be women.

"It has always been men framing the discussion of the protests," he said. "It is so frustrating that it's usually always the men, Russell Means, Glenn Morris and Ward Churchill, pounding their chests, saying 'Meet me in the streets.' "

Morris, chairman of the political science department at CU-Denver, declined to return several calls seeking comment about parade plans.

Churchill, in an e-mail, wrote, "My comments are reserved for reputable journalists."

Attorney David Lane, who helped defend those arrested in the 2004 protest and is representing Churchill in his conflict with CU administrators, said he hasn't been told what Churchill or others might do.

"I have no idea what Ward Churchill will be doing on Columbus Day, but I imagine it will involve the full exercise of his rights under the First Amendment," said Lane.

The laws get a rewrite

Last year, about 240 protesters - including Morris and Churchill - were arrested for blocking the parade's progress. In a three-day January trial in Denver County Court, Morris, Churchill and six other leaders of the protest were acquitted of charges of failure to obey a police order to disperse.

Then, after a series of county court rulings dismissing loitering charges against the defendants, City Attorney Cole Finegan announced the city would not pursue the failure-to-obey cases against any remaining defendants.

Since then, the Denver City Council has passed two ordinances that might help Finegan this time around. One replaces the city's ordinance on loitering with a more clear-cut law, making it illegal to obstruct public passageways or disobey a police order to move out of the way. The second measure makes it illegal to interfere and disrupt lawful events.

Police Chief Gerry Whitman said Division Chief Steve Cooper has met with people on both sides of the parade debate.

"I think we need to be prepared. Our goal is to keep it safe again, this year," Whitman said.

One change to the police approach this year, he said, is that each protester who attempts to block or interfere with the parade will be advised, one by one, to leave or risk arrest. Last year, such orders were delivered by the police to the protesters as a group, over a bullhorn. All seven of the eight defendants who testified in the January trial said on the witness stand that they never heard the order.

"If we have to make arrests, we're going to do everything we can to make sure that they're the best we can make, for an effective prosecution," said Whitman.

Waiting and hoping

George Vendegnia of Arvada, who obtained the parade permit on behalf of the Columbus Day Parade Committee, supported Denver's crafting of new ordinances.

"I think the city has done a good job with what they've done," said Vendegnia. He isn't sure what to expect from protesters this year but believes Churchill's turbulent year may sap his influence among political activists.

"I think it definitely weakens what's going on there," said Vendegnia.

"He completely used the Columbus Day parade last year as his forum, which I didn't appreciate at all. I think that, hopefully, he's got the picture that we're all Americans, and we all have our rights."

Guzman doesn't know what to expect this time around.

"This year, there are so many people pulling in different directions," she said. "It's sort of like riding out the hurricane, riding it out and hoping for the best."

Columbus Day events

A sampling of upcoming events related to the Columbus Day holiday:

Ending Colonial Legacies: Indigenous Visions for the Future, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 1, St. Francis Center, Auraria campus. Check-in and breakfast with elders from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Cost is $10-25. Breakfast and lunch are provided with preregistration only. Guest speakers include Indian affairs experts Henrietta Mann and Elouise Cobell. The event also features the film, The Spirit of Anna Mae, followed by a panel discussion on women warriors. Space is limited. To preregister, contact Darius Smith at 303-875-4631.

Transform Columbus Day 2005 activities, Oct. 7-8. Panel discussions "Legacy of Columbus: The Doctrine of Discovery" and "How to Teach Our Children Some Truths About Columbus," 9 a.m. Friday, Auraria campus. All Nations, Four Directions March, 5 p.m. Friday, with walk beginning at 5:30 p.m. Log on to (click on All Nations, Four Directions March) for gathering places and instructions.

Resistance to Columbus Day Parade, Oct. 8. Details available from the American Indian Movement of Colorado, or the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, .

Columbus Day parade, Oct. 8. Staging from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. in parking lot at 23rd and Blake streets, just north of Coors Field. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. and proceed south on Blake Street to 17th Street before turning west, then north, for a return to the starting point. It is expected to last about two hours. Following the parade, an all-afternoon party is scheduled at the Potenza Lodge Hall, 1900 W. 38th Ave.

Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is made available without profit to those who have an interest in receiving this information for news reporting, comment,  research and educational purposes. The Transform Columbus Day Alliance has no affiliation whatsoever with the publisher and/or author of this article nor is the Transform Columbus Day Alliance endorsed or sponsored by the publisher/author.