On Oct. 9, hundreds of people of all nationalities and creeds gathered at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City for an anti-Columbus Day tour to “Decolonize this Museum.”
They demanded that the city rename Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day. They called on the the museum to show respect for other people’s ancestors by returning relics displayed in the museum, and by changing the racial character of the museum’s displays. They called for removal of the Theodore Roosevelt statue in front of the museum, for example. Long viewed as offensive, the statue has Roosevelt riding a horse flanked by stereotypical depictions of an African and an indigenous person.
It was the second annual event of this type by Decolonize This Place. It was difficult to determine how many people participated, as they were packed into small halls. Organizers said that they had handed out 1,000 flyers to participants.
The event started by recognizing that the museum stood on the sacred land of the Lenni Lenape indigenous nation, and the protest declared solidarity with all indigenous nations.
‘Decolonize this museum’
The diverse group of enthusiastic, organizers, activists, and curious onlookers completely took over the museum. “Decolonize this museum” echoed through the halls as hundreds moved from exhibit to exhibit. There were cheers of solidarity with Puerto Rico, left by Trump to fend for itself to recover from a natural disaster. There was also recognition of the unnatural disasters of genocide, colonialism, imperialism and bigotry.
Organizers conveyed their information in “Mic check” style, with the crowd repeating each phrase so everyone was able to hear. A four-page pamphlet was read in this way by the whole group as it toured the exhibits of ancient artifacts. The oppression and blatant racism brought to light in the exhibits was brought home in a powerful way as each person repeated the words of the speaker.
Boredom was the last thing one felt in this museum tour. Instead of propaganda and manipulation, there was a true and detailed attempt at clarification of history, spotlighting the injustices associated with many of the displays.
After the tour, hundreds of people marched outside the museum for a speak-out. They held giant banners, some of which read: “Reclaim Indigenous Rights,” “Decolonize this City,” “We Heal,” and “Our Uprisings are Queer, Trans, Black, Brown, Palestinian, Immigrant, Indigenous.”
Kerbie Joseph, an activist representing the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, chaired the speak-out in a strong yet warm tone. When a Trump supporter spewed hateful language at the protesters, she called on the crowd to cheer this celebration, drowning out the bigot.
Speakers spoke of the victims of police brutality, of the fight for indigenous rights, of the colonization of Puerto Rico. Yanina Del Carmen Calders, from the Justice Center in el Barrio and the ANSWER Coalition, informed the crowd of the struggle to stop the rezoning of East Harlem for housing for the rich. She explained that this would force the Latino population from their neighborhood, much as indigenous people were forced off the land.
Police had placed barricades around the racist Theodore Roosevelt statue in the front of the museum to prevent the crowd from surrounding it.