AIM offers deal on Columbus parade
The group will cease protests if city leaders denounce the event, but the mayor says that would only inflame the debate.
By Amy Herdy
Denver Post Staff Writer
Members of the American Indian Movement of Colorado promised to cease protests of the Columbus Day parade if the mayor and City Council honor requests that include denouncing the parade and reviewing how U.S. history is taught.
"We're saying, 'You won't halt this racist event, so will you at least end the ignorance in our community?"' said Leslie Andrews, a member of AIM and mother of three young sons. "At least give a chance to Indian children who get belittled in our educational system by prejudices and lies about their people."
Mayor John Hickenlooper, who last week enraged groups on both sides with a letter that said he was "sick and tired of this entire costly, frustrating and potentially dangerous situation," declined the group's request.
"Any opinions on the content of your speech or theirs will merely inflame the issue even more, making future progress on these issues even more difficult," Hickenlooper wrote. "Our primary focus remains the protection of public safety and First Amendment rights."
AIM on Monday wrote city officials to say it and its allies would not protest the parade if the mayor and members of the council agreed to declare Columbus Day divisive and endorse an effort to replace the state and national holiday; facilitate a dialogue between Italian-American and American Indian groups; use part of the money saved from policing the event for American Indian projects in Denver; and endorse a review of Columbus Day and U.S. expansion policy in Denver public-school curricula and declare that such teachings must comply with the statute requiring accurate accounts of American Indian history.
The letter outraged members of the Italian-American community.
"Even if he wanted to denounce the parade, the mayor can't speak for me and all the citizens of Denver - he would be offending everybody's First Amendment rights," said George Vendegnia, founder of the Sons of Italy-New Generation and a Columbus Day parade organizer.
If AIM wants to create a dialogue, Vendegnia said, it should start with the parade committee and not with supporters of an alternative Italian festival.
Using money that is spent on parade security for Indian people would not be fair, he said, as they are the ones who created the costs. As for reviewing Denver Public Schools history curricula, Vendegnia said: "We can't rewrite
history. That would be like asking God to rewrite the Bible."
Anna Vann, a parade organizer, agreed.
"The revenue spent on parade day is inexcusable on the part of the protesters, and to even think that those funds should be spent solely on the part of American Indians, absurd," Vann said. As for DPS education, "There have already been changes made, which I don't personally agree with," she said. "My job, as a parent, is to show my child the differences of both sides."
Meanwhile, Glenn Morris of AIM said that until the mayor and council members agree to the proposal, activists will continue with their plans to protest the parade.
"It's very unfortunate the city is squandering yet another opportunity to avoid tension and conflict in the streets," he said in response to Hickenlooper's letter.
The parade has been controversial for years. Opponents say that to celebrate Columbus is to celebrate the genocide of Indian people, while parade organizers say it is an expression of their free-speech rights that honors Italian heritage.
In his letter Monday, Hickenlooper said the city is "always willing to help facilitate a constructive dialogue between the American Indian and Italian- American communities and encourage both communities to continue trying to find common ground on their own as well."
He said he would forward the request for a review of history curricula to DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet.
COLUMBUS DAY CORRESPONDENCE
Read the response to Mayor Hickenlooper's letter from the American Indian Movement Colorado.
Read the response to Mayor Hickenlooper's letter from the Transform Columbus Day Alliance.
Read the list of compromise proposals by AIM for Mayor Hickenlooper.
Click here to see the .pdf of the letter sent by Mayor Hickenlooper.
(PDF format -- Click here to download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Edited 10/6/2005 10:06 pm ET by Cherokee21