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Indigenous Rights Advocates Protest Augustine 450 Celebrations

Protests began this weekend and culminate today against St. Augustine's 450th birthday celebration. Activists want an old fort and prison, the Castillo de San Marcos, torn down. Credit: Resist 450 Coalition
Protests began this weekend and culminate today against St. Augustine's 450th birthday celebration. Activists want an old fort and prison, the Castillo de San Marcos, torn down. Credit: Resist 450 Coalition
September 8, 2015

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples are protesting today in St. Augustine because the city is reenacting the landing, 450 years ago, of Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles.

Menendez's ship brought 800 passengers to establish the continent's first permanent European settlement. But Bobbie C. Billie, founder of the Resist 450 Coalition and member of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples, says the festivities are shameful.

He calls the conquistador's legacy painful to his people.

"They didn't 'found' it," he says. "We were already here when the Europeans come into our lands. Then we still struggle with it even today. That's why we shouldn't be celebrated."

Festival organizers say they're honoring the city's history and the spirit of exploration. The protesters say they're especially dismayed by the Mass being held at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine today, saying Menendez used mass murder and imprisonment to spread Catholicism.

Shannon Larsen, an organizer of the Resist 450 Coalition, says the story of Menendez' crimes needs to be told.

"Luckily he died before he was able to do it but he wrote off to Spain for an order to annihilate all of the indigenous people," says Larsen. "To us this man is no different than Hitler."

The protesters would also like to see the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument torn down because it was used over the years as a prison for indigenous people.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - FL