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Onondaga Nation Calls for Removal of Columbus Monument, Unity of Heritages and Cultures in Syracuse

Chris Bolt/WAER News

The Onondaga Nation has weighed in on Columbus Circle.  Nation leadership seeks change, while including all cultures that call Syracuse home, in a statement released Wednesday.

Make no mistake, Onondaga Nation leaders want to see the statue of Christopher Columbus come down.  They call it burdensome to see Columbus honored, given the lands he is credited with discovering were in fact already established nations of indigenous people. 

The statement prepared by the Onondaga Nation Council, however also suggests they don’t want to see other cultures affronted or made to suffer as they have, losing lands, seeing degradation of lakes, rivers and the earth itself. 

"We fully understand the wishes of the Italian American community to honor their heritage, but it is burdensome for the people of Onondaga to see Christopher Columbus memorialized with a statue.   Within our lands and hearts, finding equality and peace is difficult knowing the hardships our ancestors endured as a consequence of his campaign. ...a direct result of the Doctrine of Discovery ... which Columbus used to claim the lands in the name of the Spanish crown," Onondaga Leaders said in a statement.

The statement calls this a crucial time in history for unity.  They believe the Columbus Circle area could be reinvented and reenergized into a symbol of unity for all. 

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Plaques around the base of the monument that show Native Americans kneeling, subservient to Columbus have drawn criticism.

A committee at the behest of Mayor Ben Walsh is discussing what to do with the Columbus statue and monument.  Le Moyne College Vice President Father David McCallum hopes people on that committee come without preconceive notions of what do with the statue and monument.

“Whatever we do has to advance the cause of social justice.  In many ways there’s common ground here between Indigenous peoples and the Italian-American community, at least historically, in recognizing their shared experiences of discrimination and bias.”

Last month a group including members of the Columbus Monument Corporation protested to keep the statue, saying the community raised money and erected it.  Some suggested erecting a counter-monument to offer other views. 

Onondaga Nation issues statement on Columbus Circle statue in downtown Syracuse.

The Onondaga Nation officials prepared Wednesday’s statement for the committee reconsidering Columbus Circle’s future.  In it they use words such as diplomacy, open minds, peace and cooperation to move the conversation forward. 

"With great respect, equality, and peace, we ask that we may bring our minds together as one to find a solution in which all the peoples who call Syracuse home may find a way to continue to honor each other’s heritage and cultures. With hope for generations yet to come, we offer these thoughts in peace," the Onondaga Nation statement said.

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

The working group is scheduled to make recommendations by the end of summer.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.