Diverse City

Back in 2018, I showed up to a Colorado Springs City Council meeting in support of the Indigenous community, which was petitioning Council to make Indigenous People’s Day a permanent resolution, thereby abolishing Columbus Day. Protests against Columbus Day have been occurring for decades, and the local Indigenous community has been working to establish a permanent Indigenous People’s Day since at least 2015.

At the meeting I attended, I watched member after member of the Indigenous community (and allies) pour out their hearts as they recounted the pain and devastating impacts of the settler colonialism Christopher Columbus initiated when he “discovered” America — the land theft and genocide, the rape of their people, cultures and languages.

The holiday represents a celebration of the erasure of Indigenous cultures. Monycka Snowbird from the Anishinaabe and Marten Clan recently said to Rocky Mountain PBS, “It’s hard to be Native during the fall. We have Columbus Day; we have Halloween; we have Thanksgiving; we’ve had sports with horrible mascots.”

Two years ago, Council supported a proclamation to establish an Indigenous People’s Day for 2018 alone, but a permanent resolution was not granted. The Indigenous community of Colorado Springs would have to come back and petition for it for two more years. 

I remember feeling gut-punched by the irony. The same year (and with the power of a Council vote) a proclamation to permanently declare October Arts Month was also on the docket. It passed, with the biggest concern being how the initiative would affect downtown parking. 

This year, even with the White House doubling down on racist efforts to honor Columbus Day, deeming Indigenous folx who feel otherwise “radical activists,” it feels like a victory that our City Council did the right thing in making Indigenous People’s Day a permanent holiday. Councilors voted to pass the resolution Oct. 13.

However, the work is not done. The establishment of Indigenous People’s Day is not the only fight in the Indigenous community that has been decades in the making — Cheyenne Mountain High School still needs to change its mascot. 

During a Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 Board work session Oct. 12, dozens gathered in support of, or in opposition to, removing the high school’s mascot — the Indian. Last month, the school board removed the illustration of a chief in a traditional headdress from the high school’s sign, but the work session didn’t result in a vote on whether to change the mascot entirely. Boards don’t vote during work sessions, and the D-12 board is still divided on whether or not the mascot violates the school’s nondiscrimination policy. Board members in one of the least racially diverse districts in the city say they need more time to think through it. 

This indecision is not new. Local media have documented this argument since at least the ’90s. In a 1994 Gazette article, Cahuilla Margaret Red Elk of the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Indian Movement (AIM) said of the continued use of Native people as mascots: “The way Indians are perceived is always mythical. We’re not real. On television, they shot us all the time. They perpetuate all of that.” 

How much time do you need to make a decision? 

It’s important to note that it appeared it was mostly white folks protesting to keep the mascot, as a way of honoring “tradition and history.” They held up signs that said, “educate not eradicate.” Actual Indigenous folks were protesting to remove the mascot.

This is the epitome of white privilege, because their argument really boils down to their discomfort. They demand to be “educated” about the harm their actions are causing — but they aren’t listening to the people who are trying to educate them. If you want to be educated, read a book about why this may be harmful. As one protester candidly put it: “You wouldn’t say Cheyenne Mountain Whites, would you?”