Demonstrators protesting Columbus Day and violence toward Native people toppled statues of former presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt in downtown Portland, Oregon last night. The action was part of a larger, nation-wide movement dubbed “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage” and led by an anonymous self-described group of “radical Indigenous organizers.”
According to the Associated Press, demonstrators used chains and a blowtorch to pull down the equestrian bronze of Roosevelt around 9pm, and toppled Lincoln’s statue a few minutes later. They spray painted the base of the Lincoln monument with the words “Dakota 38,” a reference to the 38 members of the Dakota people who were hanged under the president’s orders in 1862.
The organizers of “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage” have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s email request for comment.
Both Roosevelt and Lincoln have been highly criticized for their expansionist agendas and their racist and genocidal policies targeting Indigenous people. In an 1886 speech, Roosevelt infamously declared, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are.” He also spoke in favor of the bloody Sand Creek Massacre, which wiped out an entire village of more than 100 Cheyenne and Arapaho people in 1864, describing it as “righteous and beneficial.”
In June, the Museum of Natural History in New York City announced that it would dismantle a long-disputed statue of Roosevelt on its main entrance.
The organizers of “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage” had issued a call for “autonomous, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, and anti-fascist actions” to take place across the country yesterday, Sunday, October 11 in advance of Columbus Day. According to a list of actions on the group’s website, demonstrations were planned in Chapel Hill, Birmingham, and New York City, among other cities.
Later that night, doors and windows were shattered at the nearby Oregon Historical Society (OHS), though there is no known connection with the group that dismantled the monuments. Police arrived on the scene and dispersed the crowd; according to local media, at least three arrests were made.
In a statement provided to Hyperallergic, OHS’s executive director Kerry Tymchuk said that its downtown facility “suffered extensive vandalism.” A textile work known as the “Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Commemorative Quilt” was also taken from its display in the building’s pavilion, but has since been recovered.
“We understand the significance and importance of the messages fueling the protests that have been taking place in our city and across the nation these past few months, as evidenced by much of our work during recent years,” Tymchuk said.
“As we clean up broken glass, scrub paint, and make plans to ensure safety in our building, we also, as always, welcome critique of our work. We would be grateful to have constructive feedback from all those who are willing and able to aid OHS in fulfilling our vision of an Oregon story that is meaningful to all Oregonians.”
Many have long argued that the federal holiday, observed on the second Monday of October, wrongly celebrates centuries of genocide against Native populations. Several cities and states in the US have opted to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead, designating it an official holiday.
In flagrant disregard of Native people’s experiences and views on the subject, President Trump released a statement last week affirming his support of Columbus Day and accusing “radical activists” of trying to “undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy.”
“These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities, and his achievements with transgressions,” Trump said, adding that Columbus “represents one of the first of many immeasurable contributions of Italy to American history.”
Columbus, who was born in 1451, more than 400 years before Italy officially became a unified nation-state, spent most of his life in Spain. The colonizer was stripped of his noble titles during his lifetime and arrested after his mistreatment of Native people and colonists in Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic) spurred a bloody rebellion.
The White House statement goes on to describe recent actions President Trump has taken to further his nationalist view of American history, including signing a recent Executive Order to “root out the teaching of racially divisive concepts from the several workplace.” He concluded by calling upon the American public to “observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
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Author: Valentina Di Liscia