To celebrate Indigenous People's Day, we participated in a guerrilla street art action to push back at the recognition of Columbus Day in Iowa and the nation. The art is inspired by the Overpass Light Brigade and utilizes LED lights to spell out movement messaging tackling various issues. The art build and action was led by Qırımlı Frontlines Organizer, Mahmud Fitil. Ronnie James provided on-the-ground support, gathering together an amazing crew of local radicals to help hold the art. The photos were taken by Karla Conrad, a movement photographer well known for her work in Iowa. The following piece to accompany the photos is written by Sikowis Nobiss.
Indigenous People’s day is a time to celebrate Indigenous cultures, practices, and success but it is also a powerful political statement about and against whitewashed history as well as colonial violence. It is observed on the same date as Columbus Day with the goal of ending the celebration of a man that did not, in fact, discover America who was also a rapist, a murderer, and slave trader. Unfortunately, the bulk of declarations and proclamations recognizing Indigenous Peoples in cities, counties, and states across the country do not abolish Columbus Day. For instance, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation last Friday to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which is the first time a sitting US president has commemorated this holiday, but Columbus Day is still a national holiday, which means the nation state still celebrates and upholds colonization, genocide, and slavery. Most federal employees will receive the day off to observe Columbus Day, which is still endorsed by Congress.
In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds proclaimed the second Monday in October in 2018 as the state's inaugural Indigenous People’s Day but said nothing about abolishing Columbus Day. Though Columbus Day has never been officially observed in Iowa, state code still says that “The governor of this state is hereby authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation, calling upon our state officials to display the American flag on all state and school buildings and the people of the state to display the flag at their homes, lodges, churches, and places of business on the twelfth day of October, known as Columbus Day; to commemorate the life and history of Christopher Columbus and to urge that services and exercises be had in churches, halls and other suitable places expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of the discovery of America.” Thus, Columbus is still applauded for his “discovery” of America and it is hard to believe that Kim Reynolds does not personally side with this since she recently banned critical race theory in Iowa so that folks are unable to access anti-racism training and the troublesome history of stolen blood soaked lands.
On the South Lawn of the Iowa State Capitol Complex there is a Christopher Columbus Monument that was inaugurated in 1938 by five thousand people who showed up for the dedication of the statue on Columbus Day. The statue was put up just a couple of years after the Columbus Club of Iowa successfully lobbied to have Walker Park renamed to Columbus Park and have a Columbus monument placed there. The fact that this statue is still standing is a testament to the fictitious mythology of the nation state imbued with white supremacy that Iowa is also built on and is an insult not only to the celebration of Indigenous People’s Day but to the multitude of diverse Indigenous nations that traditionally occupied these lands.
The state of Iowa needs to completely abolish Columbus Day and and statues uplifting white supremacy that perpetuate hate and whitewash our history. Hate speech alone is not considered a hate crime under Iowa code, however, the state itself should be held to a different standard and barred from entering or perpetuating behavior that undermines a person’s mental well-being, safety, and sense of belonging in this state. Furthermore, the Iowa constitution already protects against discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, age, race, national origin, and disability. Since Columbus Day and monuments to white supremacy celebrate genocide, land theft, and enslavement, they perpetuate and legitimize discrimination as they make many BIPOC residents unwelcome in public spaces that trigger very real historical traumas.