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Colorado Cities Celebrate Indigenous People's Day

Denver and Boulder celebrate their first-ever Indigenous People's Day today. (Pixabay)
Denver and Boulder celebrate their first-ever Indigenous People's Day today. (Pixabay)
October 10, 2016

DENVER — Monday marks the first Indigenous People's Day to be celebrated in Boulder and Denver. It is also Columbus Day, a federal holiday.

Events held in Boulder intend to reach beyond what most kids learn in grade school about the man celebrated for discovering lands where people had been living for thousands of years. Jerilyn DeCoteau, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, said the Christian Doctrine of Discovery carried out by Columbus and other Europeans led to the loss of 95 percent of indigenous populations.

"Under the Doctrine of Discovery, if we failed to convert to Christianity they could wage a ‘just war' against us and take our lands, ignore our laws, kill, murder, maim,” DeCoteau said. "And they thought it was right and just to do that."

A Native American-led Four Directions March was held in Denver on Saturday as an alternative to the Columbus Day parade.

The president of the Columbus Day Parade Committee called Columbus a great source of pride for Italian-Americans. One member of the Order Sons of Italy told Denver's 9News that a lawsuit could be filed over the city council's decision to transform the holiday to honor indigenous people.

Not everyone agrees. Glenn Spagnuolo's family roots go back to Palermo, Italy. The ethnic studies instructor at the University of Colorado Denver recalled that when Genoa - Columbus’ city of birth - tried to establish a day in his honor, almost 100,000 people shut the city down with a general strike.

"True Italians really do recognize the vile nature of this man, what he represents and what he did,” Spagnuolo said, “and they don't want that to be representative of a true, proud Italian culture."

DeCoteau said that in order to heal the wounds still experienced by many Americans and to move forward, people need to learn more about - and embrace - what really happened in the nation's history.

"Our country needs to come to terms with what we've done with indigenous people and with slavery,” DeCoteau said. "This is important history, it's impacted all of us and we should know it. And our schools don't teach it."

A Boulder resolution called for a correcting of the historical omissions of native peoples from public places, and is calling for tribal input to establish a new name for the city's Settlers Park.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO