October 10, 2003

Students Decry Columbus Day

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Students, faculty and staff gathered at noon yesterday on Ho Plaza in a rally against the celebration of Columbus Day this Monday.

Native American Students at Cornell was the main organizer of the rally. The group had the support of other organizations on campus: the American Indian Program, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), the Akwe:kon program house and the Latino Living Center. These groups supported the rally because they feel that the image of Columbus as a hero is a Native American concern as well as a Latino and an African-American issue.

“The indigenous people are near extinction,” said Victoria R. Lopez, residence hall director of the LLC.

Another grievance of NASAC is that Columbus Day occurs during fall break each year. The treasurer of NASAC, Anpao Duta Flying Earth ’04, said he doesn’t feel that Columbus Day warrants the acknowledgment of a vacation.

Participants of the rally handed out flyers to passersby in front of the Straight. The flyers stated the crimes of Christopher Columbus to be the murder of more than 12 million Indians, the kidnapping and illegal transportation of African people and the depopulation of thirty Caribbean islands.

Four speeches were also given at the rally, focusing on the encouragement of open debate and increasing knowledge about issues not taught in American schools.

Professor Speaks

The first speaker was Prof. Lloyd Elm, American Indian studies. He said that “traditional American schools sanitize information.” When important information is left out of lessons, he said, students are left with the impression that “the human history of this great, great, country began in 1492.”

He praised Cornell for offering more diverse and culturally representative courses and said that “everyone deserves to have their history taught at Cornell.” Through these courses, “young people are gaining the gifts of multiple perspectives,” he added.

Jason Corwin ’02, the media assistant at Cornell’s film program, was the second speaker. He presented Native Americans’ grievances against Columbus Day as allowing stereotypes to continue and the full implications of the genocide of indigenous people to go unacknowledged.

Corwin said that “without taking a look at our human history, genocide could happen again.” He then went on to recommend two books that gave what he said are more diverse and accurate perceptions of history: A People’s History of the United States: 1942-Present by Howard Zinn and A Little Matter of Genocide by Ward Churchill.

Corwin continued to stress the importance of debate — and, he said, the lack thereof — at Cornell. In the spring of 2002, Corwin said he went to the Cornell Review, which supports Columbus Day, to invite representatives to a formal debate. They agreed and decided on which issues of Western civilization were to be brought up at the debate. The Cornell Review pulled out with no clear reason, according to Corwin, and the debate never took place. Corwin states that without open arguments, people cannot “reflect on what [they] have been taught and seek out other information.”

Currently, Anpao plans to create a Cornell-sponsored genocide panel or conference. Through this panel, he said, serious discussions can be fostered about the implications of genocides, such as those found in America, Rwanda and Germany.

Philip Fiadino, a Catholic chaplain at the University, did not initially know that the event was taking place. However, as he passed by the rally he felt the motivation to speak. He talked about his experience of bringing students from elite Catholic schools to Native American reservations. These students, he said, were shocked at seeing such despair, including poverty and alcoholism, on the reservations. He went on to say that just listening to these problems was not enough.

The final speaker was Sam Strong ’07. He read a passage from Zinn’s book, which reflected a Native American’s perspective of the European conquest of the Americas. The rally closed with a performance by the White Pine Singers.

A sign at the rally suggested the creation of an Americas’ Day, stating that “the Native Americans will support America so long as America does not just forget them.”

Archived article by Casey Holmes