Indigenous Activist: Removal Of Christopher Columbus Statue 'Opens Up The Dialogue'

Jun 18, 2020

A local advocate says the city's removal of its Christopher Columbus statue is the result of two forces converging: the current Black Lives Matter movement and the long-standing efforts of Indigenous activists.

“We’re fighting the same fight,” says Shelly Corbin of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who lives in Grove City.

Mayor Andrew Ginther announced Thursday that the Christopher Columbus statue in front of City Hall will be removed and stored "as soon as possible," just days after Columbus State Community College said it would remove a similar statue on its campus. A third statue at the Ohio Statehouse still stands.

"It normalizes the acts of slavery and the deaths of millions of people from either murder or disease," Corbin says of the statue. "When historical acts of violence like this are normalized, it perpetuates those acts of violence in modern day-to-day experiences."

Indigenous community members have long advocated for the city to take down the statues, but Corbin says the sheer size of the Black Lives Matter movement - and the recent protests over racism and police violence - is what finally moved the needle for change.

“The Indigenous communities are very small. So if we’re a small population and we don’t have in terms of allies or people to stand in solidarity with us, we have a lot of work cut out for us,” Corbin says. “So when the Black Lives Matter movement is happening, we can align, and we can support, and we can stand in solidarity.”

The American Indian Movement was formed in Minneapolis in the late 1960s, with very similar goals as the Black Lives Matter movement: fighting inequity and police brutality.

“We have similarities, as we are people of color, we have either been enslaved, we’ve been murdered, we’ve lived here, we’ve been forced and assimilated, our culture removed,” Corbin says. “And so a lot of the fights we have are similar.”

Corbin says that Columbus' decision to finally remove the City Hall statue is just the start of change that the movements are capable of when their forces combine.

“It opens up the dialogue for further conversation about what currently is being celebrated in the city, the city named Columbus,” she says. “What can we do to open up those conversations and address these issues that Indigenous people and people of color have in terms of systemic racism, and stuff that has just been normalized in day to day life.”

Corbin says the end goal is to create a world that is just, equitable, and diverse for many generations to come. But for now, the removal of the statue signifies something important: hope.

"I look forward to what the future brings,” she says.