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Wreath Laying Ceremony at Columbus Monument Could be Last; Removal Seen as Good "Starting Point"

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Evan Beebe
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WAER News

An annual tradition in Syracuse might have been held for the last time Monday. The wreath laying ceremony in front of Columbus monument during the holiday is a staple for members of the local Italian-American community. Yet, Mayor Ben Walsh’s recent announcement to remove the statue has left some of those members frustrated.

Manlius native George Cerio is one member of that community who is upset.

“This statue is symbolic of the heritage of Italian-Americans in this city and I don’t it should be swept away. We are losing all our history.”

The Columbus Monument Corporation is responsible for organizing the wreath laying ceremony every year. Former Onondaga County Executive Nick Pirro is a member of the corporation, and he was on the action group Mayor Walsh created to discuss the monuments future. Pirro said the committee was one sided, and quickly directed the mayor to remove the statue.

“The mayor has caved in to a small group of protestors. He went through a committee that was pretty well-stacked against keeping the monument, so I was very disappointed but not surprised.”

Pirro added that he and the entire Columbus Monument Corporation plan to challenge the statue removal every step of the way.

“It’s got to go through a process of going through the preservation board and some state board. We will do our best to appear at those and make our case, and also we will be exploring whatever legal avenues we might have.”

Several local attorneys have already reached out to the Corporation and offered to assist with any lawsuits.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE ON THE STATUE

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Credit Evan Beebe / WAER News
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WAER News
The wreath makes its way through the crowd.

A Syracuse University Native American Expert says the removal of Columbus statue downtown is a good starting point toward a more inclusive site.  Mayor Ben Walsh announced last week he plans to move the statue to private location and rename Columbus Circle.  Director of Native American and Indigenous Studies Scott Stevens says it’s the right first step, but will not fix everything.

“It is not aiming too high. The expectation should not be that this will solve a lot of conflicts in our society. It will certainly remove an ongoing point of concept that has been seen as one group’s  disregard for the history of another group.”

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Credit WAER file photo
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As an indigenous person himself, Stevens wants people to understand the complications of our ‘settler-colonial’ society.  He says the majority of the population is descendants of immigrants who live alongside minority groups of indigenous people who have been dispossessed of their land, and descendants of slaves.  Stevens says a compromise is needed in order to acknowledge our complex society.

“Any site that might bring to mind mutual recognition of each other and each other’s action would be a valuable start”

Stevens says getting to this point didn’t come without Mayor Walsh’s thoughtful, deliberate process that included the creation of a Columbus Circle Action Committee.

“Hearing all of these voices and letting opposing sides have the opportunity to hear each other as well. It is not just that we imagine what the other side is saying, but we have been given an opportunity, through this process, to hear each other out.”

Some have wanted the Columbus statue removed for years.  Stevens says the momentum from the recent social justice movements helped make it possible.  More than 100 mostly Italian Americans marked the holiday Monday at possibly the last wreath-laying ceremony at the statue, about triple the usual turnout.  Many now refer to the day as Indigenous People’s Day.