On Monday, around a thousand activists and artists gathered for the third annual Anti-Columbus Day at New York American Museum of Natural History: the fifth most visited museum in the country. The action was organised by Decolonize This Place: a group oriented around indigenous, black liberation, Free Palestine and workers struggles and de-gentrification. The group argues that the museum promotes outdated ethnographic practices within their collection that denigrate non-White and non-Western peoples.
Decolonize was joined by other groups, such as NYC Stands with Standing Rock, American Indian Community House, Black Youth Project 100, South Asia Solidarity Initiative, Chinatown Art Brigade, Take Back the Bronx, The People’s Cultural Plan, and Working Artists and the Greater Economy (WAGE).
“We return to the American Museum of Natural History on October 8th as a growing decolonial formation in New York City demanding that our institutions be accountable to the people”, Decolonize call-out states, “After three years now of discussions with the museum that have led nowhere, we report that they do not appreciate their complicity in perpetuating structures of oppression, nor do they recognize the urgency present in addressing the harm inflicted by their exhibits, representations, and narratives in advancing patriarchal, white supremacist, and eurocentric representations of indigenous, black and brown bodies.”
Ahead of their action, Decolonize This Place published a list of demands, requesting, among others, that the museum remove the statue of Theodore Roosevelt (“a champion of male chauvinism and white supremacy”) and join the growing number of cities that have renamed the Columbus Day holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The protesters greeted visitors to the museum with chants, banners and a drum circle. Some were wearing traditional Indigenous clothing. Flyers and other materials were distributed in the area surrounding the museum. Activists descended across several rooms at the museum, including the Hall of Biodiversity, the Hall of African Peoples, and the Hall of Asian Peoples.
Yesterday’s action was met with significant police presence, with cops guarding the Roosevelt statue. Nearby, a small group of counter-protesters gathered, with signs that read “Thank you ICE” and “Jail Blasey Ford.”
Columbus Day, a holiday celebrated in the US annually on the 8th October commemorating the “discovery” of Americas, is contested by Native American, anti-colonial, Black liberation, and numerous left-wing and anti-authoritarian groups.
Photo: Decolonize This Place