“…if you know the story of Columbus and the real history – not the white washed history – not the ‘Columbus discovered America fairy tale’ history – you know that he was a genocidal person. He’s responsible for the genocide of hundreds of thousands – innumerable amounts of peoples wiped out…“
The first public meeting in Providence concerning the Columbus statue recently removed by Mayor Jorge Elorza took place on Tuesday morning. The meeting of Providence’s Board of Park Commissioners, chaired by Mayor Elorza, took public comment on the statue as part of an agenda item to update the commission on the statue’s status.
The Columbus statue, and all of Providence’s monuments and historical markers, will be examined and discussed by the Special Committee for Commemorative Works, recently created by the Providence City Council. This committee will make recommendations to the Board of Park Commissioners, who will make the ultimate decisions on the fate of the Columbus statue and other historical monuments. The members of the special committee are still in the process of being selected.
Providence resident Joey Gizzarelli, who started a petition to have the statue moved to a museum where it can be presented with a full historical context, asked the Board of Park Commissioners to promise that they will pass the recommendations of the special committee, and asked Mayor Elorza to consider establishing a second special committee of City Councilmembers and representatives of the indigenous communities to discuss addressing their specific concerns.
“We would like to propose melting down the statue and working with indigenous artists to create a new piece from the bronze,” said Jenny Sparks, who works at the Steel Yard, a non-profit industrial art center and shared studio located in Providence.
“We would like to see [the statue] returned to its previous location as it has special meaning to my neighborhood,” said David Talan, who co-chairs the Republican Party in Providence and president of the Reservoir Triangle Neighborhood Association. “It was constructed just a couple hundred yards away from its previous location, at the Gorham Manufacturing Plant, and it’s also the gateway to the Reservoir Triangle Neighborhood.”
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“We’re all guests here,” said Crow Grando who has ancestors who are both indigenous and colonial. “This is Narragansett, Pokanoket, Wampanoag land. For 400 and some odd years, settlers have had the upper hand because of what’s been done to indigenous and aboriginal populations in our state. And if you know the story of Columbus and the real history – not the white washed history – not the ‘Columbus discovered America fairy tale’ history – you know that he was a genocidal person. He’s responsible for the genocide of hundreds of thousands – innumerable amounts of peoples wiped out…”
“It is no longer appropriate to have monuments in our city celebrating genocide,” said Ellen Z, from Providence.
Providence Parks Superintendent Wendy Nilsson provided an update on the Columbus statue.
“I was very upset when I found out the statue was being removed,” said Providence City Councilmember Nicholas Narducci. “I think what was getting to me is that, history is made. It should be taught and not forgotten. New history can also be made…
“I will not support melting down the statue at any given time.”
Superintendent Nilsson added that the park where the Columbus statue was located is undergoing renovations and will be “much more visitor friendly” when it’s done.
Mayor Elorza asked about a timeline, and Superintendent Nilsson said that she doesn’t see the issue of the Columbus statue being before the Board of Park Commissioners anytime before the fall.
Mayor Elorza said that the most thoughtful thing to do right now is to buy into the Special Committee’s recommendations when they come before the Board of Park Commissioners and “trust the process.”
“I hope [the Special committee] will offer us some thoughtful recommendations for us to consider,” said the Mayor, and in answer to the question from Joey Gizzarelli above, “I think it is all of our intention to follow as close as possible the recommendations of the committee…”
Commissioner Marilyn Cepeda-Andujar asked about the current location of the statue.
Providence resident Cristina Cabrera provided written and oral testimony that talked more fully about the crimes of Columbus and his role in the murder, rape and enslavement of indigenous peoples.
“Columbus statues should be treated no less than how Adolf Hitler should be treated and known for in history,” said Cabrera.
“Statues are meant to honor people,” said Providence resident Andrew Poyant. “In my opinion, there is nothing that Columbus has done that is honorable, that deserves a statue.” Poyant also listed many of the historical crimes perpetrated by Columbus.
A question from reporter Bill Bartholomew about what other statues in the city that “may or may not be contentious. Controversial statues and monuments will also be taken up by the Special Committee, said Superintendent Nilsson.