Native American Activists Protest 'Columbus Day' With Canoe Flotilla In Bay

Matt Bigler
October 14, 2019 - 10:49 am

KCBS Radio/Matt Bigler

Columbus Day is a holiday for some Americans, but for others, it's a day of protest. 

Dozens of Native American activists left Aquatic Park in San Francisco before sunrise Monday, sailing in a flotilla of canoes to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. They were marking the 50th anniversary of the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz, which was staged in protest of government policies toward native peoples. 

One by one, the long canoes splashed into the water, powered by paddles and prayers.

KCBS Radio/Matt Bigler

Among the canoes brought by tribes from across the West Coast was a tule reed boat made by the Ohlone, the native peoples of the Bay Area. Its creation was described in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle

The canoe's captain and maker, Antonio Moreno, told KCBS Radio the craft, which is composed entirely of local reeds, offers a different sort of ride than other canoes.

"The waves kind of go into the canoe, and kind of get softened, so there's not much thrashing around," he said. 

Related: Monday Is A Holiday, Just Don't Call It Columbus Day In San Jose City Hall

Moreno said building the canoe gave him and others a chance to relive the traditions of their elders, and to see how that knowledge can currently play an important role in their own lives. 

"We're realizing that the knowledge that our elders had, their traditional ecological knowledge is very valuable to today's survival," he said. 

Ruth Orta of Newark, an 85-year-old member of the Ohlone tribe, described Monday's event as a reminder to everyone that indigenous peoples are still here, despite centuries of colonial genocide and oppression.

"When they conquered, they took our land away. People that were here from the beginning of time. That's my ancestors," she said. "We are still here."

Monday's holiday is no longer known as Columbus Day in San Francisco. The city's Board of Supervisors last year officially renamed it as Indigenous Peoples' Day