Columbus Day parades don’t usually include floats like the stockade with 13 nooses visible Monday on Tappan Square.
The nooses represent Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles, said Columbus Day protest co-organizer Three Eagle Cloud, while stockades were used by Christopher Columbus and his men to hang Arawak Indians who wouldn’t convert to Christianity.
Eagle Cloud is a Taino Indian whose tribe descended from the Arawak Indians, who in turn come from the Bahamas where Columbus landed in 1492.
Columbus is celebrated as a great explorer who discovered the Americas, although most historians say Leif Ericson and the Vikings arrived first. But Eagle Cloud, of Oberlin, said Columbus’ true legacy is being the architect of genocide against the Arawak people.
“He said we would make wonderful slaves. That was our redeeming quality,” Eagle Cloud told about 15 protestors who held signs condemning Columbus. “It’s like having a holiday for Adolf Hitler.”
Eagle Cloud said historians have whitewashed Columbus’ legacy and some agree.
In “Christopher Columbus, Mariner,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samuel Eliot Morison wrote in 1954 about Columbus’ treatment of Arawaks. “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide,” Morison wrote.
However, author and historian Howard Zinn, in “A People’s History of the United States,” noted in 1980 that Morison doesn’t mention the genocide until halfway through his book, which mostly praises Columbus for his seamanship. Zinn noted Columbus’ diaries show what his intentions were from when his men first encountered the Arawaks.
“With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” Columbus wrote.
Zinn wrote that after Columbus reached Haiti, he enslaved the population to mine gold. Within a couple of years, about 125,000 of the natives were dead. By 1650, the original Arawak population had been eliminated.
Zinn also quotes the writings of Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish priest who took part in the conquest. He later condemned Columbus for his treatment of the Indians.
“Our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle, and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then,” de las Casas wrote. “The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians.”
Among the protestors was Adam Rosa of Lorain, who is of Taino descent. Rosa said the holiday disrespects the victims of Columbus.
“A lot of people don’t know about their heritage, but I happen to know where I came from,” he said. “Every year, reliving the same memories over and over, it’s not right.”
Eagle Cloud said he began fighting to get Congress to change the name of the holiday to one celebrating Native Americans in 1989 when he lived in St. Petersburg, Fla.
He hopes Oberlin’s city council will pass a resolution to change the name of the holiday but admits it’s an uphill fight.
At 75, Eagle Cloud said this may be his last protest. “I’m tired of talking and getting nowhere,” he said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Photos by Evan Goodenow | Oberlin News-Tribune Sundance, a member of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, protested Columbus Day at Tappan Square.