Monday, October 12, 2009
Christopher Columbus: Does everyone celebrate 1492?
Does everyone celebrate Columbus Day? No, everyone does not celebrate the explorer and his "discovery of the New World" in 1492. It's a fact that there are national and local observances of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, but not everyone thinks it was such a marvelous occasion in world history or cause for a party or celebration.
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1934, but, people were celebrating as far back as the American colonial period. In 1792, New York City and other U.S. cities celebrated the 300th anniversary and in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison rallied the nation to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th anniversary of the event. It was quite patriotic and was seen in a positive and popular light. But even though many Native Americans may not have seen reason or have any cause to join in the celebration - I wonder how the big day went in schools on Indian reservations - the idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day didn't come about until 1977. It was first proclaimed by representatives of Native nations and participants gathered in Geneva, Switzerland at the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. In that year the planning began for the 500th anniversary of Columbus Day in 1992. It was decided in 1990 to transform Columbus Day, 1992, "into an occasion to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation." (Wikipedia has details regarding Columbus Day and the Native American's reaction to it HERE.)
The International Columbian Quincentenary Alliance and Spain '92 planned a Tour of the Discovery Ships. The official schedule of the recreated Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria included their departure from Spain and, by February 1992, they were sailing along our East Coast; they visited 13 cities in 11 states. Festivities were planned at the parks and harbor fronts at Miami, Houston, Tampa, Norfolk, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The ships also docked at New Orleans, St. Augustine, Charleston, Newport, RI, and Wilmington. The final celebration of the voyage of the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria was with the tall ships in New York's harbor on July 4th.
The ships were in Tampa, tied up at the docks alongside the Tampa Convention Center for ten days, from April 3-12. I went to see the ships in 1992, and sat down on the grass to hear the Native Americans who came from all over the United States to celebrate Indigenous People's Day. Russell Means, an Oglala Soiux, and one of the best known activists for the rights and freedoms of American Indians, led their celebration. As a backdrop to their words that day, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria looked pretty small and one had to wonder how they ever sailed across the Atlantic to begin the exploration of the European's "New World."
The statue of Columbus in Tampa was sculpted by the artist Albert Sabas. It stands at the western end of the Platt Street Bridge and was dedicated on this day in 1953.