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Thursday, September 23, 2004

4 directions, one hope

This article, about the 4 directions all nations march, appeared in today's edition of the Boulder Weekly

Four Directions, one hope
Transform Columbus Day to complete the four-year ceremonial cycle in opposition to colonialism

by Pamela White

If Bartolomé de Las Casas were alive today, he’d be dumbstruck to see Americans celebrating Italian explorer and slave trader Christopher Columbus as a hero. De Las Casas, a Catholic priest and Spanish missionary to the Americas, was a contemporary of Columbus’ and is perhaps best known for his vigorous opposition to Columbus’ treatment of Indigenous Americans.

Writing in the 1540s, De Las Casas described in graphic detail the violence heaped upon Indian peoples by Columbus and his Spanish followers, including murder, enslavement, the torture and dismemberment of children and the rape of Indigenous women.

"We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the 40 years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than 12 million men, women and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like 15 million," de Las Casas writes in A Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies.

Despite de Las Casas’ eyewitness accounts–and a wealth of factual information proving that Columbus was not the first European to come upon the North American continent–Columbus has been honored with his own special day each October since the city of Pueblo began observing Columbus Day in 1905.

It’s not surprising that Denver, as the capital of the state where Columbus Day got its start, is Ground Zero in the resistance movement to Columbus Day. Since 1990, when the city’s Columbus Day parade was resurrected after a 30-year hiatus, American Indians and their supporters have stood together to oppose the event, culminating in a demonstration and more than 150 arrests in 2000.

Since 2001, those efforts have centered around the All Nations/Four Directions March, an event sponsored by the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, a coalition of more than 80 groups representing a broad spectrum of American society.

"The Four Direction march was a four-year pledge to try to indicate to Denver, to the parade organizers, to the state of Colorado, that there is an alternative to hateful and acrimonious cultural celebrations and that people of all communities, of all nations, of all races can come together in a mutually respectful way and celebrate their presence in our homeland," says Glenn Morris, a member of the Leadership Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado.

A Four Directions March is an American Indian healing ceremony, in which marchers converge at central location–in this case Cuernavaca Park–from the four cardinal directions. The ceremony typically involves drumming, singing and prayer. The four directions are sacred to most Indigenous peoples, and each is associated with a color–yellow, white, black and red–which, in turn, have become associated with the four "races" of humanity–Asian, Anglo, African and Indian.

"The Transform Columbus Day Alliance isn’t just about being naysayers," Morris says. "It’s not just about being against. It’s about what we’re for, what we aspire to as a community, as a city, as a country."

Like many American Indian ceremonies, a Four Directions march doesn’t occur year to year, but rather takes place in a four-year cycle. Once the commitment is made, the four-year cycle must be completed. The fourth march is slated for Friday, Oct. 8, in Denver.

As this four-year cycle draws to a close, organizers say there is an air of celebration.

"There is a strong sense of accomplishment," says Gail Bundy of the Red Earth Women’s Alliance, one of the event’s sponsors. "When we started, everybody told us we couldn’t do it."

But for each of the past three marches, more than 2,000 people have participated, bringing drums from every culture to join together with the host drums brought by various American Indian groups.

The atmosphere of unity and celebration that pervades the All Nations/Four Directions March is a sharp contrast to that of the Columbus Day Parade itself, which looks nothing like a traditional parade with floats, balloons, clowns and marching bands. Dubbed the Caravan of Conquest by the Transform Columbus Day Alliance, the parade features a small testosterone-heavy cortege of men on motorcycles, in Humvees, limousines and big trucks, who rev their engines, honk their horns and shout epithets as they pass American Indians and other protestors.

"Technology can be used for progressive and humanizing efforts and endeavors," Morris says. "And instead, what they do is they use gas-guzzling limousines and Humvees and motorcycles to drown out and silence the voice of the original people from here… This is not about the celebration of Columbus. This is a celebration about the war for the Americas, and they are the victors and we are the vanquished."

Morris says that coming together in a positive way has produced unexpected results over the past four years. Among the alliance’s achievements are the passage by the city of Denver of the nation’s first resolution to oppose the USA PATRIOT Act and the exposure of illegal surveillance conducted by area law enforcement of nonviolent activist groups and the opening of the "spy files" to public scrutiny.

He says media coverage of the issue has improved over the course of the past four years, with newspapers demonstrating a willingness to address atrocities committed by Columbus and his followers. During a recent appearance on the Peter Boyles Show, Morris says he saw proof that the public’s perspective has changed, as well.

"Every single caller prefaced his or her remarks by saying, ‘I know Columbus was a bad guy, but…,’" Morris says. "Years ago that wouldn’t have happened. People would have said, ‘Columbus is a national hero. You should recognize that.’ And so this campaign, I think, really has had an effect on the way people have been forced to reexamine the historical record about Columbus himself and about his legacy."

Bundy says she’s also seen a shift in the way members of the alliance address social issues and disagreements.

"Typically when you get in discussions, you get into who’s right and who’s wrong. But when you start talking in terms of balance–what’s in balance, what’s out of balance–we find we’re looking at problems in a completely different way," she says.

The lesson they’ve learned, she says, is that forming good relationships with other people is more important than the outcome.

"People who may never have had reason to work together are working together and enjoying it," she says. "It’s in those relationships and that understanding of how we are, indeed, all related that the real strength of the transformative work begins."

Bundy says the focus now is on completing the four-year cycle. What the alliance will do after completing this march has not been decided.

"What we’re really doing is touching hearts and hopes, because we all really want to believe that we all can live together."

Four Directions details

The fourth All Nations/Four Directions March will take place on Friday, Oct. 8. Participants should meet at one of the Four Directions gathering places by 5 p.m. The march begins at 5:30. People are encouraged to wear the color associated with the direction they choose to start from. The gathering places are:

West (black) – Viking Park at Speer and Federal

North (red)–Globeville Landing Park, 38th Avenue and Atkins Court

East (yellow)–Blair-Caldwell Library, 24th and Welton

South (white)–Fishback Landing Park, 700 Water Street (east of Ocean Journey)

For more information, go to www.transformcolumbusday.org.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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