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American Indian groups protest Columbus Day celebrations

LOS ANGELES -- Representatives of American Indian tribes from Mexico, the United States and Canada gathered in Los Angeles Saturday to launch a campaign to protest the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America.

More than 200 Indian representatives from the United States and Canada, including Shoshone, Navajo, Hopi, Chumash, Sioux and Mixtec, gathered to plan demonstrations protesting what they call the destruction of Indian culture that followed Columbus's discovery 500 years ago. The quincentennial celebration is planned for 1992.

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Indians present at the Indian Indigenous Survival Summit 1991 held Saturday at Cal State-Los Angeles said that to them, Columbus Day represents 500 years of genocide.

When Columbus completed his ocean voyage in 1492, the settlers found a land where they could live and prosper politically and economically.

But the representatives at Saturday's summit said that for the Indians already living on that land, Columbus's arrival meant oppression, disease, persecution and slavery.

'There is an old Indian saying, 'When the white man comes we die,' ' said Little Crow, a Lakota Sioux from South Dakota. 'Christopher Columbus didn't discover America.

'We were here centuries before he got to this place. We had homes, communities and government. He brought us nothing but disease and death. '

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And the American Indians are angry -- at the Bureau of Land Management for taking control of reservation land, at the Department of the Interior for misallocating funds, at the Bureau of Indian Affairs for not providing the health, education and welfare promised to these people.'

'It's what happened after Christopher Columbus came that we are protesting against -- the total genocide of Indian culture,' said Gary Tewalestewa of the Alliance of Native Americans.

'The federal government should be supplying these people with homes, food and education -- the basic means of survival. We have upheld our part of the treaties that were forced upon us, but the federal government has not upheld theirs,' said Tewalestewa.

The fourth annual Indian Survival Summit is sponsored by the Alliance of Native Americans. And those attending the conference were formulating an anti-Christophre Columbs campaign designed to stop the quincentennial celebration and raise awareness of the oppression fo the Indians by the white man, representatives said.

Other issues under discussion at the summit were treaty rights, Indian homelessness and the return of sacred Indian burial remains.

The Indian representatives said that on Sunday they will form an international inquiry committee to find a resolution to 'slavery, colonialism, feudalism, and capatalism,' the plagues they say have oppressed them for 500 years.

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The anti-Columbus campaign involves a coalition of organizations -- the Alliance of Native Americans, the National Organization for Women, Cal State University, the American Students Association, church groups and unions. The groups were planning to hold a march and rally against the celebration of Columbus Day next Saturday.

'We want to let the general public know that Indians and other oppressed people will not allow the celebration of Christopher Columbus to take place,' said Tewalestewa, a Hopi from Second Mesa, Arizona.

According to Tewalestewa, the groups have not decided how they will protest the quincentennial. One of several suggestions is to block the docking of the replicas of Columbus' ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, that is planned for the celebration.

'Or we may tell people not to shop and not to go to work on Columbus Day, the day before and the day after. This will affect the economy. It will put dents in the pocketbooks of the controllers of the state.'

'This will also get the media's attention. The media has ignored Indian issues. You never read about the true side of the Native Americans. You hear about the federal agencies, but you never hear from people who have bulldozers tearing up their land and who are served with federal eviction papers.'

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