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Mike Yepez, left, a member of the Yaqui Tribe, and Yakima "Yank" Bad Hand, a Lakota elder, listen as members of the Transform Columbus Day Alliance speak Tuesday at a news conference at the Four Winds Survival Project in Denver.

Columbus Day protesters seek to abolish the holiday

Parade organizers say event will go on again this year

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
January 26, 2005

First they won dismissal of criminal charges against them. Now, Columbus Day protesters are seeking elimination of the holiday itself.

At a news conference Tuesday, activists opposed to parades or any other recognition of Christopher Columbus outlined a multipoint agenda for replacing a day in his honor with a multicultural celebration.

But Mayor John Hickenlooper's office has issued a statement that it will not "endorse or oppose" a repeal of the state and national holiday, and Columbus Day parade organizers vow their event will be held again this year.

Columbus Day opponents spoke out against any continued observance honoring Columbus, one day after charges were dropped against 230 protesters who blocked the progress of Denver's Oct. 9 parade.

"We are not here to gloat. We are not here to hold the dismissal of these charges over the city's head," said Glenn Morris, a member of the leadership council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, and one of eight protesters found not guilty last week in Denver County Court for failure to obey a lawful order to disperse at the parade.

"But we are here to say to the mayor, to the city attorney, to the state of Colorado and to the people of the United States that we are formally committed to the elimination of racism as embodied in the Columbus Day holiday in its birthplace in Denver, Colorado," he said.

Morris and fellow organizers of the protest announced an initiative that seeks the following:

A meeting "immediately" between the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, Hickenlooper and the City Council.

A statement by Hickenlooper and the council that Columbus celebrations are "no longer welcome" in Denver.

Formation by Hickenlooper of a commission to examine the city's history of "displacement and removal of indigenous peoples" and the mistreatment of other minorities, with the goal of constructing a model of multiracial collaboration in Denver.

Endorsement by Hickenlooper and the council of the repeal of Columbus Day as a state and national holiday.

Endorsement by the city of the Four Directions/All Nations March, an alternative event first held in 2001.

The return of all photographs, fingerprints and other materials taken from those arrested at the 2004 parade.

George Vendegnia, spokesman for the Columbus Day Parade Committee, is outraged at last week's verdicts and the protesters' latest pronouncements.

Make no mistake, he vowed, there will be a 2005 parade.

"It's the craziest thing I've ever seen," said Vendegnia. "This fuels me more to continue this parade on."

Mayoral spokeswoman Lindy Eichenbaum Lent released a statement that said, in part, "The City and County of Denver will continue its open-door policy of meeting with groups on both sides of this issue in hopes of an eventual resolution."

It added, "Neither the Mayor nor City Council has the legal or legislative authority to repeal Columbus Day as a state or federal holiday. We will be glad to continue the numerous conversations we have had over the past year and a half, reflecting all sides of this issue, but we are not prepared to endorse or oppose a repeal at this time."

City Council President Elbra Wedgeworth wouldn't commit to any position on future Columbus Day observances.

She pointed out that the controversy has raged for quite some time in Denver, with both sides yielding little ground.

"We've been going through this for years," Wedgeworth said. "I mean, c'mon, guys. We can talk about it, but I'm not guaranteeing anything at this point."

Morris said AIM leaders are talking to state legislators about potential bills to repeal the state's observance of the Columbus holiday. One he mentioned is Rep. Mike Cerbo, D-Denver.

Cerbo said that for now, he is simply talking to both sides, reminding everyone that the people opposing the parade aren't anti-Italian. They are anti-Columbus.

"I'm just talking to them, just looking for a solution, looking to help," Cerbo said.

or 303-892-2742 News staff writer Peggy Lowe contributed to this report

Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.