Columbus Day: Protesters call Christopher Columbus a 'terrorist' and mark Indigenous Peoples Day instead

While Americans of Italian heritage celebrated Columbus Day with a traditional parade on New York's Fifth Avenue, Native Americans staged alternative celebrations of indigenous culture or took part in protests calling for the name of the holiday to be changed to Indigenous Peoples Day. A statue of the explorer was vandalised in Detroit, while in Los Angeles, protesters held placards calling Christopher Columbus a terrorist.

Men dressed in historic military uniforms march in the Columbus Day Parade on Fifth AvenueAndrew Burton/Getty Images
A reveller gets ready to dance during a 'pow-wow' celebrating the Indigenous Peoples Day Festival in Randall's Island, New YorkEduardo Munoz/Reuters
Olin Tezcatlipoca from the Mexica Movement speaks to demonstrators in front of a statue of Christopher Columbus during a protest in Grand Park, Los AngelesMark Ralston/AFP

Campaigners say the federal holiday honouring the "discoverer" of America — and the parades and pageantry accompanying it — overlook a painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs that followed the explorer's arrival in the Americas.

A reveller dances during the Indigenous Peoples Day Festival in Randall's Island, New York, held as a counter-celebration to Columbus DayEduardo Munoz/Reuters
A reveller takes part in a 'pow-wow' celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in Randall's Island, New YorkEduardo Munoz/Reuters
Members and supporters of the Mexica Movement march across the overpass of the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles as they protest against Columbus DayKevork Djansezian/Reuters
Indigenous protesters stand in front of a statue of Spanish missionary Junipero Serra in Los AngelesKevork Djansezian/Reuters
A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask takes part in a protest staged by the Mexica Movement against Columbus Day in Los AngelesKevork Djansezian/Reuters

Congress set aside the second Monday of October as a federal holiday honouring Columbus in 1934. Over the years, Native Americans have slowly begun winning more recognition around the day. Native Americans make up about 2% of the US population. Supporters of Columbus Day say the holiday celebrates centuries of cultural exchange between America and Europe, commemorates an iconic explorer and honours Italian-Americans, a group that has endured its own share of discrimination.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo participates in the Columbus Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York CityAndrew Burton/Getty Images
Dancers in traditional attire perform during the Columbus Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in New YorkStephanie Keith/Reuters
A boy gestures from the sidelines of New York's Columbus Day Parade, celebrating Italian heritageStephanie Keith/Reuters

Anti-Columbus protests also took place in Latin America. For Chile's biggest indigenous group, the Mapuche community, the 12 October marks the beginning of the extermination of indigenous people at the hands of Spanish colonisers in 1492.

Clashes broke out between Chilean police and protesters at what began as a peaceful demonstration led by Mapuche communities demanding the recovery of historic lands and the release of prisoners they say are held for political reasons. Some protesters marking Mapuche Resistance Day threw stones at the police who in turn used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowds.

People take part in a protest march by Mapuche activists against Columbus Day in Santiago, ChileChristian Miranda/AFP
Mapuche people, Chile's largest indigenous group, participate in a protest rally in SantiagoChristian Miranda/AFP
People play Palin, a traditional ritual and ancestral Mapuche game played with curved sticks and a wooden ball, in Vina del Mar, ChileRodrigo Garrido/Reuters
A child waves a Mapuche people's flag in front of riot police during a protest against Columbus Day in Santiago, ChileIvan Alvarado/Reuters
Riot police deploy tear gas during a protest march by Mapuche activists in Santiago, ChileIvan Alvarado/Reuters

The protesters' demands include the demilitarisation of what the Mapuche people claim to be ancestral lands in the La Araucania region, and the release of several imprisoned community leaders. Among those imprisoned is Hugo Melinao of the Rodrigo Melinao community, who is accused of playing a role in arson attacks on trucks on the Pan American Highway in October 2014. The Mapuche communities say the arrests of their leaders amount to a government attempt to silence them in their claims to the land.

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