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Columbus both celebrated, castigated

The day marking the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' landing in the Americas got as much attention Monday for Indians mourning Europe's conquest of the New World as it did for traditional celebrations of discovery.

"Columbus is somebody else's hero. He's not our hero," said Tonya Gonnella Frichner, president of the American Indian Law Alliance, a New York organization, at an observance at a replica of Columbus' fleet of ships.

In Berkeley, Calif., more than 150 people gathered in the University of California's Sproul Plaza to inaugurate Indigenous People's Day, an official replacement for Columbus Day.

"While the rest of the world celebrates or demonstrates against Columbus Day, here in the city of Berkeley, there is no Columbus Day," said Lee Sprague, one of the speakers at a two-hour rally supporting the name change. "This is the first beachhead of our peoples."

Signs decrying Columbus and his doings abounded, including one that said "U.S. Out of North America."

Thousands of people crowded into a huge communal Indian gathering in Boston to watch dance exhibitions, eat raccoon stew and corn bread and mingle with descendants of the people who lived in Massachusetts 9,000 years before the Pilgrims landed.

"This whole event is to emphasize the point that we're not celebrating 500 years of discovery for people who didn't need to be discovered," said Jeremy Alliger, director of Dance Umbrella, a co-sponsor of the powwow.

The meeting came one day after the biggest-ever Columbus Day parade in predominantly Italian East Boston.

The 46th annual Columbus Day parade up New York's Fifth Avenue was sponsored by the Columbus Citizens Foundation, a group founded to perpetuate "pride in the Italian-American heritage." Organizers worked toward a theme of "Unity in Diversity." But American Indians declined an invitation to participate.

"We understand other people's need to celebrate, but we didn't need to be a part of it," said Alex Ewen, a spokesman for the New York Indian Council, which represents 27,000 metropolitan-area residents.

Later, on the Hudson River, American Indians and representatives of Spain '92, a Spanish government foundation, stood next to full-scale replicas of Columbus' ships, and Spain '92 issued a "declaration of respect for the indigenous cultures and nations of the western hemisphere."

"Spanish people have a classical upbringing, that the Spanish were heroic in their conquest of the Indian people and in the spreading of the Christian faith," said Rafael Mazarrasa, president of the foundation that sponsored the replicas' voyage.

"I think we need to convey to the Spaniards the idea that what from our point of view was glorious, from the point of view of the conquered, those were times of sorrow and darkness," Mazarrasa said.

Chicago's Columbus Day parade stepped off without incident Monday, led by Mayor Richard Daley and grand marshal Frankie Avalon.

Avalon's car was followed by a group of American Indians who were applauded loudly by the crowds standing five deep along the parade route through the Loop.

About 300 people gathered near the Chicago River downtown for an alternative parade, a couple of blocks away from the traditional parade. They threw red dye into the river before starting the march.

"We should remember the genocide that came with him and following," said Riccardo Scalvinoni, a tourist from Brescia, Italy, who joined the protest.

Columbus, Ohio, wrapped up a four-day celebration of the 500th anniversary that included a replica of the Santa Maria on the Scioto River.

Two blocks away, about 100 people held a memorial service, then walked to the Santa Maria, beating a drum and chanting "Columbus was a murderer" and carrying signs, one of which read "500 Years of Oppression."

Some took a milder position.

In Cleveland, about 200 people gathered on the downtown Public Square for an all-day celebration of Indian culture, offered as an alternative to traditional Columbus Day activities.

"If the Italian-Americans want to celebrate their culture, although we might see it as a perversion of history, we have no intention of interfering," said a festival organizer, James Levin.

Castigating Columbus for the centuries of atrocities since 1492 accomplishes nothing, said Don Sherman, organizer of an Indian observance in St. Louis. He is part Cherokee and part Mewok.

"Columbus to me was just a man," Sherman said. "He didn't discover America; he tripped over it. He did what he thought was right for him to do. He was greedy, but most of those that followed were much worse."