Native activists pull down Christopher Columbus statue at State Capitol

By: - June 11, 2020 12:12 am

Activists led by members of the American Indian Movement tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus at the State Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Activists led by members of the American Indian Movement tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus at the State Capitol Wednesday. Once it toppled, they sang and danced around it in a dramatic show of defiance against a significant figure in the recent history of the Americas whose reputation is now associated with murder and enslavement of Indigenous peoples.

“For healing to happen, this needed to happen,” said Mike Forcia, chairman of the Twin Cities American Indian Movement and a member of the Bad River Band of Ojibwe. “It was here for far too long. It’s a slap in the face to all Native people and all people of color.”

Though Forcia tied the rope around the neck of the statue, Native women led the demonstration by pulling the rope that brought down the statue.

“It’s a beautiful thing because we have suffered from what he did to us,” said Dorene Day, a St. Paul resident and member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe.

Her mother Charlotte Day was a supporter of the American Indian Movement, which began in Minneapolis in 1968 in response to police brutality against Native people. Day attended the demonstration with several of her children and her grandchildren, just like her mom brought her to protests when she was a child. “I know in spirit my mother is really happy,” Day said.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and the highest ranking Native woman elected to executive office, released a statement in which she stopped just shy of congratulating the demonstrators.

“I can’t say I’m sad the statue of Christopher Columbus is gone. I’m not,” she wrote. “All Minnesotans should feel welcome at the Minnesota State Capitol, and our state is long overdue for a hard look at the symbols, statues and icons that were created without the input of many of our communities.”

The arrival of Columbus, Flanagan said, “set in motion centuries of violence and genocide against the Indigenous people who already lived here.”

Dorene Day, whose mother was a supporter of the American Indian Movement, celebrated the toppling of the Christopher Columbus statue. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged the legacy of genocide unleashed by Columbus, but he said in a statement that there’s a process for removing statues that should be followed “to ensure the safety of bystanders and the preservation of surrounding property.”

He added: “While that process was too long for those who were pained by the statue’s presence, that is not an excuse for them to take matters into their own hands and remove it in that fashion.”

(A person was reportedly injured during a statue removal incident in Virginia Wednesday.)

Although State Patrol knew of the protest and plans to tear down the statue, troopers did not arrive until after it was toppled. Armed officers gently moved protesters away from the statue and guarded it until a crane lifted it onto the bed of a truck that drove it away.

The demonstration came amid a national wave of racial reckoning set off by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in south Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

Since Floyd’s death, Confederate monuments have been removed in Birmingham, Ala., Louisville, Ky., and Jacksonville, Fla. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its car races Wednesday, and Christopher Columbus statutes were also damaged in Boston and Virginia

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.