SYRACUSE – Around one hundred people gathered in Columbus Circle in Syracuse this week to call for Syracuse and Onondaga County to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON) organized “Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day – Not Columbus Day”, and the event went viral on Facebook, attracting support from all over the country, although most actual attendees were local. Syracuse, N.Y. is built on the traditional territory of the Onondaga Nation, the heart of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, whereas Columbus never set foot on the North American continent.
“We gather at the statue of Columbus because it is a clear reminder of his legacy of genocide and land theft,” NOON stated on the event page. “Standing atop the heads of indigenous peoples, located squarely between the Church and Government buildings, located on land stolen from the Onondaga Nation, it is a clear monument to the Doctrine of Discovery, racism, and the oppressive structures of colonialism that continue to affect all of us today. We gather here during a teachable moment to discuss the on-going impacts of that legacy and to commit ourselves to reversing it.”
The Doctrine of Discovery, established in the Papal Bull Inter Cetera in 1493 in response to Columbus’s voyage, laid claim to the entirety of the Americas in the name of Christian kings. It continues to be used in American courts to justify the theft of Indigenous lands to this day. There is a growing call by Christian churches for Pope Francis to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.
Cities and institutions across the country are choosing to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. This year alone, 21 cities have officially changed their observance, including Los Angeles, CA; Austin, TX; Portand, Maine; Salt Lake City, UT; San Luis Obispo, CA; Tulsa, OK, Nashville, TN.
“It is time that Syracuse and Onondaga County join the modern era of celebrating the Indigenous Peoples that continue to be among us, rather than clinging to a man who massacred or enslaved every indigenous person he came in contact with,” stated Andy Mager of NOON. “Festa Italiana in September was a great celebration of our local Italian culture. We invite the Italian-American community into a dialogue about Columbus’s bloody legacy and whether that is really what we want to be focusing on here in Syracuse. This is not about changing the past, but changing the future.”
“The continued survival of Indigenous Peoples is what should be celebrated,” observed Cindy Squillace, of NOON. “We are immensely grateful that the Onondaga Nation is still here and for their leadership in reminding all of us how to treat each other and the environment.”