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Indigenous People, Allies Demand Change Ahead Of Columbus Day

Chali'Naru Dones, a Taino woman who lives in Newton, is pictured at Saturday's rally. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
Chali'Naru Dones, a Taino woman who lives in Newton, is pictured at Saturday's rally. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

Indigenous people and their allies gathered on Boston Common Saturday to call for an end to the city's celebration of Christopher Columbus. They pushed for systemic changes to address Boston's homages to European imperialism.

Their three demands are as follows: that Boston should observe Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October in lieu of Columbus Day; that Boston should not resurrect the Columbus statue that was removed by the city after it was beheaded in the summer;  and that Massachusetts revises its state flag, which has words and symbols that endorse white supremacy.

Chali'Naru Dones is a Taíno Boricua. Wearing a headdress of macaw feathers and a nagua with an image of Mother Earth, she says it's time Boston joined other Massachusetts towns (Amherst, Brookline, Cambridge, Northampton and Somerville) that have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

"It's the right thing to do. Point blank," she said. "Why honor an individual that committed so many atrocities?"

Chali'Naru Dones and other protesters call for Indigenous Peoples' Day to replace Columbus Day in Boston. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
Chali'Naru Dones and other protesters call for Indigenous Peoples' Day to replace Columbus Day in Boston. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

And because of Columbus' genocidal legacy, Dones never wants to see Boston's Christopher Columbus marble statue again, which was decapitated in June when other symbols of effigies and symbols of white supremacy were being damaged and destroyed or taken down across America as the country entered a new era of racial reckoning. The city removed the statue, and Mayor Marty Walsh has said the plan is to re-head the statue and give it new life on display at an affordable housing development managed by the North End chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

Dones said she doesn't condone the beheading of the marbled version of the explorer, but she feels it "absolutely should not" be lauded in public.

"I know where it should go — probably sunken in the Boston Harbor," she said.

But the Italian American Alliance has been vocally adamant about preserving the Columbus statue. After the statue was taken down by the city, the Alliance's Frank Mazzaglia defended the statue's public existence because, to him, Columbus represents the story of immigrants.

"Who else has discovered America because of Columbus? Millions of people have come here and discovered economic opportunity. Millions of other people have come to America to escape the oppression in the old country," Mazzaglia told WBUR back in June.

A different Italian American group, the Italian Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day, says Columbus doesn't deserve such reverence.

"We take no pride in the celebration of Columbus — the misplaced adulation of him for so many years," said Heather Leavell, one of the founders of the group. "We should know better. This whole conversation should be centered on Indigenous people. It's not about Italian Americans."

The Boston Arts Commission has announced a plan to install a monument to Italian immigrants where the Columbus statue once stood at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park.

"City by city, town by town, Christopher Columbus has to come down!" the crowd chanted as they marched to the Old State House — the site of the Boston Massacre and where Crispus Attucks, a formerly enslaved man whose parents were Black and Native American, who was one of the first people shot and killed by British troops in the American Revolution on March 5, 1770.

Where Attucks presumably died, a group of Black practitioners of African diasporic religions poured libations for ancestors and burned sage. They told the crowd to call out the names of loved ones who have died. There was a chorus of names of departed parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents.

Demonstrators then moved on to Faneuil Hall — a place activists, for years, have urged the city to rename since its namesake is slave trader Peter Faneuil.

"They got us out here dancing for money," noted a man who goes by the mononym Mathematics, pointing out that many buskers who perform in front of the building are Black and brown. "But there's not one Black-owned business inside of Faneuil Hall."

On Saturday, Indigenous and Black people articulated concrete actions Boston could take to make the city more hospitable for them. WBUR reached out to the Mayor's office for comment, but did not hear back.

The group left, singing "We Shall Overcome," marching toward Christopher Columbus Park. And it was there where Dones, the Taíno woman, stood in front of the unoccupied marble base of the statue to read a proclamation from the United Confederation of Taino People.

"Get up there," someone in the crowd shouted before Dones started to read.

Chali'Naru Dones stands on the marble base of Boston's Christopher Columbus statue to read a proclamation from the United Confederation of Taino People. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
Chali'Naru Dones stands on the marble base of Boston's Christopher Columbus statue to read a proclamation from the United Confederation of Taino People. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

To cheers of affirmation, she climbed atop the pedestal and began to read the proclamation. In the crowd was Mahtowin Munro with the United American Indians of New England.

"That's who should be up there," she said.

This article was originally published on October 11, 2020.

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Quincy Walters is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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