I wanted to lead the New York City Columbus parade this year, October 13th, 2003. As a Comanche Indian, I thought I could touch up our savage image a bit, and reconcile the offenses other Indians have caused the Italian-Americans in recent years.
It would be a national reconciliation, I thought. Comanche Indians were not known for kindness to strangers, but other Indians were, especially the Taino, who first met Columbus on the Caribbean Islands and the Wampanoag, who saved the Pilgrims on the coast of New England. The fact is, Comanche were hardly known to exist when Columbus visited here. Comanche certainly have no quarrel with Columbus.
But my efforts seemed misplaced.
Apparently, Lawrence Auriana, President of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, thought so. I contacted the Foundation at the beginning of July. After three months of numerous phone calls, letters, submissions, and e-mails to the Foundation and to Mr. Auriana, I met with complete silence. Not even my parade submission was acknowledged.
Instead, the Foundation is emphasizing Italy’s cooperative relations with America in the present world. Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino, who supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, is a special guest, along with fashion designer Roberto Cavalli—the Grand Marshall! It’s definitely an Italian’s parade. And understandably so. No one else in the country puts on Columbus parades. If the Italians didn’t make the effort, there would be no Columbus celebration.
But I thought the Italians would do well to open the parade up to a more all-American image. An Indian leading the parade would have been perfect, but the Foundation apparently couldn’t trust me. They didn’t know me.
I pointed out to the Foundation that in other parts of the country, the Columbus Parade has been under attack—by American Indians. I thought Italians should make a “preemptive strike” in New York, and associate Indians with Italians in a positive way.
The 1992 Columbus Parade in Denver was cancelled, due to intense Indian harassment of Italian parade planners. Illustrious leftist champions like the New Jewish Agenda, the Nation of Islam, and the American Friends Service Committee so intimidated the city that the parade was cancelled. Russell Means led out in the protest. Of course, other American Indian Movement (AIM) representatives were there.
Since the 1991 Parade, there was no Columbus Day Parade in Denver. Nine years passed before the next parade, and that one was heavily protested. Then Denver Mayor Wellington Webb spent $100,000 on extra police for that day. Denver’s first Negro mayor did his very best to let everyone be part of the all-American show.
Even so, of the nearly 500 protesters, 147 were arrested—not for violence, but for bodily impeding the parade. Some seemed a little anxious to be arrested, in the name of being Indian. (Now that’s an ironic form of dedication.) Yank BadHand and Greg Holder “stepped forward to be arrested.”
Most of the Indian names in the reports are Sioux, from the North Country. This is interesting, because the Sioux had no encounter with Columbus or the Spanish influence; Comanche encountered the Spanish culture but never saw Columbus.
Protesting Sioux lamented Columbus with the standard dirges: he did not discover America; he put Indians in slavery; he committed genocide, etc. But they added a new one, specially made for Italian-Americans. Pansy Hawkwing (Lakota) said, “Italian-Americans followed the American way by breaking their word. They are becoming too American. That's what Americans have done, gone back on their word.”
Columbus never went back on his word. He never gave any word. He wasn’t a politician, really, just a front man. To class Italians as “Americans” is weirdly flattering, but these Indians meant it in the worst way. I think they committed a bad act of racism here.
Columbus was simply a courageous man. Columbus was willing to go to a place where, as far as he knew, no man had gone before. This is momentous. This is all I see in Columbus. This is all I need to see.
Would that Indians were brave enough to go where no Indian has gone before, socially, politically, and professionally.
Comanche did it. Comanche came out of the southern Rockies after generations of isolation. We were naked before the world. Then we took hold of the world with unparalleled rigor, and created the largest single hunting empire ever known in America.
I see the Comanche in Columbus—courage to explore the unknown, to master it, and to establish yourself and your people.
Evviva Columbo! Uda, Numunu!