Activists across California are urging Governor Newsom to replace a Columbus statue in the California State Capitol which many say glorifies trauma and indigenous genocide.
Originally crafted in Italy, the statue had been gifted by Darius Ogden Mills to the state of California in 1883 who called the piece “a work of art commemorating an event that had so great an influence on the destinies of the western world.” Columbus, as many now know, was a Spanish businessman who had received investments and 3 ships from the Queen after presenting his plan to her – his sole focus was to satisfy his investors who were ready for more land while he personally collected revenue. In that process he created trauma and pain that would last hundreds of years.
“In these 500 years, my heart and the heart of my ancestors continues to hurt, continues to bring us tears because of what was done to us. Yet you continue to honor him. Take down that statue” says DeeDee Manzanares Ybarra, Assistant Director of the SoCal A.I.M. Chapter and a Rumsen Ohlone & Gabrieleño Kizh tribal member. For her, this is a statue that brings pain and ignores the reality and history that her people and other communities faced. “What did that man do, besides commit atrocities. Why does he need to be glorified? Can anyone ever answer that question, so that it can stop my heart from hurting?”
Marge E, who goes by Sister Who Walks With Bears, is a local Miwok Tribal Member and has been pushing for the removal of the statue from the California Capitol building for years now. “I am appalled that in 2019 there is still a statue,” she says. “It’s sitting in the capitol, our capitol California. It needs to come down.”
This isn’t the first time the statue has created controversy either.
In the 1970s, before the state planned a restoration, activists from various groups advocated for the removal of the statue from the rotunda but were ignored. And recently in 2018, during the Poor People’s Campaign march to Sacramento, a direct action was held at the same statue and protesters with the American Indian Movement were arrested.
“To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves, unwittingly, to justify what was done.” – Howard Zinn
After a year long legal struggle, Josh Brennecke (an activist who refers to himself as an ally for indigenous resistance and takes guidance from native leaders within A.I.M.) was able to have his charges dropped from the action in 2018 in which he was arrested for climbing directly onto the Columbus statue. “My charges were dropped but we are still going full speed ahead as we aim to take down that awful statue!” Brennecke said when I reached out for comment.
Brennecke (a member of a coalition of indigenous people and allies, SCARS Statewide Coalition Against Racist Symbols), hopes to create enough momentum to get Governor Newsom’s attention regarding what this statue truly represents being the attempted genocide of indigenous people, slavery, rape and the many forms of violence that came at the cost of Columbus’s venture into the American landscape.
As the groundwork is being laid out for the movement to turn the tables on the statues glorifying Columbus, so does the effort to replace Christopher Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. “It needs to be removed from all of our calendar, from celebrating it,” says Sister Who Walks With Bears. So far, over 50 cities across the country have formally accepted the switch to help celebrate the struggle and survival of indigenous peoples but the fight continues.
On their petition, SCARS ultimately demands to have the statue replaced with one that honors California’s indigenous culture as well as their struggle and asks supporters to use the hashtag #NoMoreColumbus to spread the word.
“We as Californians are asking our friends and allies to help support us as we DEMAND that the statue glorifying Christopher Columbus in the California State Capitol Rotunda be taken down. We deserve better than a symbol of the theft of native lands and subjugation and genocide of Indigenous People.” – SCARS