Editorial & Opinion

Diana Gray: Celebrate Native heroes in Providence

Who wouldn’t want people to know the truth about the Natives in this area? Who would want to erase the story, tragic as it is, of what happens to real brave, innocent people when colonization is allowed? Who wouldn’t want statues in every major park in Providence to celebrate historical Native figures?
Photo for Diana Gray: Celebrate Native heroes in Providence

Published on November 26, 2021
By Diana Gray

Recently, I sat with Mayor Jorge Elorza and others to talk about erecting statues in Providence celebrating historical Native figures from the Seven Nations. It was a productive conversation, but when the mayor spoke to the news he only mentioned Columbus. That’s not all there is to talk about. I wanted to fill in the public on what the others in the room were discussing that day.

The area of so-called Providence and Rhode Island is stolen land. For 500 years colonizers have tried to erase First Nations people from the history of this place. But this is our land; we will not be moved.

The Nations are still here. The Colonizer will never know peace in the absence of justice for our ancestors. We steward the Earth, waters, and sky for our descendants’ prosperity. If it pleases the seventh generation, it pleases me now.

The Native and Indigenous people of the bay and falls are pleased to finally be rid of the Columbus statue displayed until recently on Elmwood Avenue. Many groups are discussing the material object itself. Members of the Italian American community, city officers, and elected officials are willing to talk about that part of the matter instead of fight. It is good they seem supportive of making positive change that recognizes and respects the cultural heritage and contributions of First Nations and others. Whatever becomes of that statue though, our primary goal has been attained: Cristóbal Colón’s craven image no longer imposes on, intimidates, or invades our land.

But this is only the first step. The project to replace him is already in motion.

Who wouldn’t want people to know the truth about the Natives in this area? Who would want to erase the story, tragic as it is, of what happens to real brave, innocent people when colonization is allowed? Who wouldn’t want statues in every major park in Providence to celebrate historical Native figures? That is what I want. So do almost 300 of my friends of Narragansett and other local tribal membership. We have delivered our petition and applications to relevant city offices. Both the Department of Tourism and the Parks Department are at the table and supportive of the process. So is the Mayor, at least in word, so far.

Mayor Elorza, doubtless eager to keep everyone happy, has been leaning into the removal and possible preservation of the old. He has a delicate job to do. For the benefit of everyone, it is important not to leave out the proposed new memorials. We want to remind him that our history, our ancestors’ lives and their whole way of living matters. Everyone wants to celebrate inspiring, relevant figures. Everyone wants to seek amends for what is past.

We will have Native heroes on the park plinths. Memorials to describe who these people are and where they came from: Northern Narragansett, Pokanoket, Mashpee, and more.

This will take more conversations with more people involved. This is not a political conversation. Society wants to act, to heal, and we must allow healing. Nor is this about rewriting history – the terror and genocide of our people deserves to be known, including the villains. Perhaps if we can recognize them, we can stop future perpetrators. This is about doing what is right. No doubt these kinds of historical statues will increase tourism and understanding. My original letter in June, 2020 (see below) called for new statues to be put up to honor and memorialize the first peoples on our own land. Nothing less!

Please feel free to reach out via email if you would like more information on the project, signing on to the petition, or to get involved. Together, we will decide the best course for our own communities, not what one official feels.

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