Denver, CO -- Oct. 7 - 10, 2005

American Indians Try to Stop Denver Columbus Parade

Fri Oct 10,10:41 PM ET

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - American Indian groups that have in past years tried to disrupt Denver's Columbus Day parade say they will try a new tack this year to get organizers to change the name -- win support from inside the Italian community.

American Indians and other sympathizers have clashed with Colorado's Italian community for more than a decade over the Denver event, one of the oldest Columbus Day parades in the United States. At the 2000 parade, Denver police arrested about 150 protesters for blocking the parade route.

This year parade opponents are asking an Italian-American survivor of the Columbine high School massacre to speak before the parade and ask for the name change.

Richard Castaldo, who was left a paraplegic after being wounded in the 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colorado and who later was a guest of then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani (news - web sites) in New York City's Columbus Day parade, will make his plea before Saturday's parade in downtown Denver.

"A paralyzed victim of the Columbine High School massacre will ask his fellow Italian-Americans to change the name of their annual Columbus Day parade which native people view as a racist holiday," American Indian activist Russell Means told Reuters.

"Here is a local hero and Italian-American who had a change of heart and will present a request to remove the name of Christopher Columbus from the parade," Means added.

Means called Columbus was "the first transatlantic slave trader" who brutalized native peoples after he sailed to the Americas in 1492.

Parade organizer George Vendegnia of the Sons of Italy said Columbus is a source of pride for Italian-Americans, and they will honor him as long as Columbus Day is a national holiday.

"If they (protesters) are so adamant they should take their case to the federal government and have the name of the holiday changed, and we would honor that," Vendegnia said.

Means said he will lobby Congress for the name change, but if organizers refuse to remove the Columbus name from the celebration after Castaldo's plea, there will be no disruptions or protests.

"We won't do anything further to block the parade, but will begin to organize a teach-in leading up to next year's racist parade," Means said. "We will bring in prominent activists and highlight Denver as a citadel of racism and put it on the international map of shame."