Activists gathered on Monday for the third annual Anti-Columbus Day Tour of the American Museum of Natural History, during which activists call on New York City to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day.
Beginning at 3 p.m., activist from the group Decolonize This Place, and members of New York City’s Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian communities as well as “decolonial advocates," met at the museum for what a flyer for the event billed as “more than a tour.”
The group also issued a public letter with other organizations (American Indian Community House, NYC Stands With Standing Rock, Black Youth Project 100 and South Asia Solidarity Initiative) ahead of the 2018 anti-Columbus tour to voice their demand that the city join a growing list of United States locales in renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.
More and more cities, like Los Angeles, Denver and Nashville, have recently opted to honor Indigenous Peoples Day either instead of or alongside Columbus Day.
This past January, Mayor BIll de Blasio announced that the controversial Christopher Columbus and Teddy Roosevelt statues would remain (in Columbus Square and outside of the American Museum of Natural History, respectively), but that the city would focus on adding new historical markers around the statues to explain the “nuances” of these historical figures.
Activists do hope to publicize more truths about these figures, like their ties to exploitation, slavery and cruelty in their conquests, but that move by the city isn’t enough, they say.
“New York City boasts the largest indigenous population in the country—more than one hundred thousand people—and it sits on the homeland of the Lenape, which is and always has been a place of Indigenous movement,” the organization said in a release. “[The grassroots groups] insist that the public holiday should honor the persistent presence of Indigenous Americans, and that it is no longer acceptable to commemorate Christopher Columbus, a figure widely associated with exploitation, enslavement, and conquest.”
Decolonize This Place Anti-Columbus Day Tour demands
Activists have organized Anti-Columbus Day tours of the American Museum of Natural History since 2016, with more than 1,000 people attending in 2017, according to Decolonize This Place.
The idea of “decolonizing museums” has gained attention in recent years, the activists note but New York’s major museums, including the Museum of Natural History, have “barely registered this seismic shift.” The groups want the museums to better tell the full story of history to give more voice and historical accuracy to marginalized groups like Indigenous peoples.
Along with updating American Museum of Natural History exhibits, the 2018 Anti-Columbus Day Tour asks museum officials to acknowledge that its building sits on occupied Lenape territory, voice support for renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day and publically state its resolve to rethink the Roosevelt statue at its entrance.
“Real decolonization — a repatriation of all objects and land to Indigenous peoples — may seem beyond the reach of an institution that to its core acts to reinforce settler colonial mentalities,” said Tlingit artist Jackson Polysin a statement. “There's real opportunity here to begin dialogue, but can our voices truly be heard when framed — contained — by these constant justifications for a foundational violence that permeate every representation of non-European peoples?”