OBERLIN — Three Eaglecloud’s emotions took over as he spoke to a group gathered in Oberlin in protest of Columbus Day.
It was his first protest of the holiday in Oberlin and, at 75 years old, he said it would be his last. About a dozen people gathered with him Monday with signs calling Christopher Columbus, who’s widely cited in history books for discovering America, a murderer and leader of genocide.
“It’s like throwing mud in our face,” said Three Eaglecloud of the holiday, which became official in 1937.
Three Eaglecloud burned sage in front of a display of 13 nooses, which he said represented how Columbus and his followers murdered indigenous people because they would not convert to Christianity. He said the number 13 stood for one redeemer and his 12 apostles.
“People look and that and they say, ‘Oh that’s horrible.’ I agree that’s horrible looking. My people thought it was horrible, too, because they were the people hanging up there,” Three Eaglecloud said. “He was a horrible person.”
Sundance, executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, said about 24,000 self-identified indigenous people live in Northeast Ohio, and likely many more who do not know about their lineage. Sundance is a member of the Muskogee tribe.
“We don’t think our children should be taught history that’s false,” he said, wearing a shirt with the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo crossed out.
Drifting Cloud, nephew of Three Eaglecloud, said he dove further into his heritage in his 20s, but before that he also was largely unaware.
Three Eaglecloud is a member of the Tayion Airwalk tribe, Drifting Cloud said he is a member of the Tayion Airwalk and Purepeacha tribes.
Audrey Kolb, a resident of Oberlin and a member of the Cherokee and Creek tribes, has hopes that one day Columbus Day will be renamed Indigenous People Day.
“Change is hard for most people. Most people just like things to stay the way they are, and it’s unfortunate, because change is so inevitable,” Kolb said.
Though no one sought to stop the protest in Oberlin, Kolb said around the country protesting Columbus Day can be seen as unpatriotic.
Cindy Byron-Dixon, who has Mohawk heritage, took her two children out of school to share that same message.
“I just feel like it’s time that we as a culture stop glorifying Columbus and stop celebrating him. He was a conqueror, not a leader, and just because we’ve been doing things for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s right.”
Jeriel Byron-Dixon, an eighth-grader at Langston Middle School, held a sign that read “Columbus = Rapist” and said she was happy with her education this year.
“Our teacher actually did a good job explaining to us that he was not a hero,” she said. But her brother, Cannon, a junior in Oberlin High School, said he had the opposite experience.
“Everything I’ve learned I’ve personally done research on. It needs to be more widespread, and the truth needs to be told,” Cannon said.
Three Eaglecloud gathered everyone to share a few words during the protest. He urged supporters to spread the word and contact members of Congress telling them to do away with Columbus Day.
When he broke down in tears, the crowd encouraged him to continue. He ended with words from Chief Joseph, who in 1877 resisted removal from land in Oregon. However on Oct. 5, 1877, the chief formally surrendered to the U.S. Army with a speech that’s now famous.
From that Three Eaglecloud quoted, “I will fight no more.”
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