Amid beating drums and a traditional Native American Round Dance, roughly 40 city residents and Yale students gathered on the New Haven Green on Sunday afternoon to protest Columbus Day.
Richard Cowes, representing the Connecticut Native American Inter Tribal Urban Council, read a proclamation from Mayor Toni Harp declaring today, Oct. 13, to be Indigenous People’s Day. Cowes read the proclamation, authored by Sebastian Medina-Tayac ’16, a former staff reporter for the News, at the end of a two-hour event that included performances by undergraduate student organization Blue Feather Drum Group, speak-outs from attendees and statements condemning the celebration of Columbus Day.
“If [Columbus] were here right now, trying to invade, he’d be considered a terrorist — an illegal alien,” New Haven resident Yecenia Rivera said at the event. Rivera, a member of the Taino tribe, said she was attending the demonstration to protest the idealization of Christopher Columbus’s exploitation of native peoples and the marginalization of indigenous groups.
Two different petitions circulated among the audience during the event: one requesting New Haven to officially change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, and another requesting Governor Dannel Malloy to stop honoring a detainment request on grassroots organization Unidad Latina en Acción member Esvin Lima, who has been in detention for seven months without due process, Medina-Tayac said. He added that this petition is part of a larger push against deportation of indigenous peoples.
At the end of the festivities, Cowes announced that in recognition of the violent history of Columbus, Oct. 13 of this year only would be considered Indigenous People Day. CNAITUC won this proclamation after lobbying and meeting with the mayor, Cowes said.
Medina-Tayac, who spearheaded the demonstration, said that although the proclamation was a solid first step towards achieving justice for indigenous people, it was truly just a symbolic move.
“It doesn’t tangibly change the continuing observance of Columbus Day,” Medina-Tayac said. “What we got today was a gesture, a little wave from the mayor’s office.”
Still, Medina-Tayac said given that New Haven houses a large Italian-American community along with the Knights of Columbus headquarters, he could understand why Harp limited the proclamation to one day, as opposed to making it an annual holiday as was requested in the petition circulated among the crowd.
Despite the fact that the proclamation is only effective today, Cowes said it still has the potential to create further recognition of and celebration for indigenous people, suggesting to the crowd the possibility of a citywide parade next year.
This event, the first annual one of its kind in the city, drew approximately 40 attendees, many of whom were indigenous people from both North and South America.
For Katherine McCleary ’18, part of the Chippewa Cree tribe, the large presence of people from both continents was both surprising and encouraging.
Pablo Barrera GRD ’20 said he appreciated that the event pushed for both a “proper” historical context of Columbus Day’s origins and a better understanding of the indigenous cultures the holiday truly attempts to celebrate.
“Rather than a false narrative, get to a real one,” Barrera said in an interview with the News.
The event linked Yale groups such as the Association of Native Americans at Yale and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society to community organizations like CNAITUC and ULA. Participants and organizers used the demonstration not only to protest Columbus Day, but also to call for action on immigration issues in the U.S., as well as on human rights atrocities happening in Mexico and Colombia.
ULA volunteer Luis G. Luna said that in order for indigenous people to move forward, they needed to recognize historical struggles such as the colonization of indigenous peoples by oppressors.
“Everything is interconnected,” Luna said. “We use this space to acknowledge our past.”
The event emphasized the theme of unity — Medina-Tayac urged strangers in the crowd to get to know each other, while Blue Feather Drum Group initiated a round dance, where all participants joined together in a circle.
“We are all related,” Medina-Tayac said at the closing of the event.
Medina-Tayac also noted that a number of events will be organized on campus today by the ANAAY to educate Yalies on Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day.
Two percent of Yale students identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.
Correction, Oct. 13:
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Esvin Lima, as well as the length of time for which he has been detained.