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Columbus Day to get protests, celebrations

It'll be a day for celebrations all around, but not everyone will be celebrating the same thing.

Although various groups are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas, many American Indians locally and nationwide will be protesting that celebration while celebrating the survival of indigenous people.

The Native People's Information Exchange is organizing events in Tampa Bay, starting with a solidarity rally and ceremony at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Columbus statue in St. Petersburg, said co-director Lois Tomas.

"This is nothing new," Tomas said of the activities. "This year is significant because of the (quincentennial). . . . But the message still has to get out that to native people, Columbus represents death, disease and a destruction of their way of life."

The rally also is to show support for the League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations, which is holding a massive protest Monday at the United Nations in New York City. The league, representing indigenous people in North and South America, is attempting to get a vote in the U.N.

Billy Tayac, Eastern director of the American Indian Movement, said thousands are expected to participate.

"As sovereign nations, we have no representation in the U.N.," said Tayac, a member of the Biscataway nation and a founder of the league. "The U.N. doesn't recognize us as a separate, distinct race of people. We're only recognized as a culture. On Monday, we'll be fighting for a voice and a vote."

A worldwide celebration of indigenous people, sponsored in part by the San Francisco-based International Indian Treaty Council, also is scheduled this weekend.

"It is extremely important that people all over the world are in solidarity with us," Tayac said.

Besides the rally, the Native People's Information Exchange is planning to counter Columbus Day activities sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Sons of Italy in Tampa and St. Petersburg. The Sarasota Peace and Justice Center also is organizing a protest in St. Armand's Circle on Lido Key on Monday.

"We can't change what (Columbus) has done, but we can change the perception of him," Tomas said. "We have to stop making him a hero to kids."