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Protesters march from Boston Common to denounce Columbus, support Indigenous Peoples' Day

Hector Colon marched to Faneuil Hall with other protesters while participating in the Indigenous Peoples Day rally and march.
Hector Colon marched to Faneuil Hall with other protesters while participating in the Indigenous Peoples Day rally and march.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Park Street station on Boston Common Saturday afternoon and marched to the downtown waterfront to denounce Christopher Columbus and show their support for Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Indigenous Peoples' Day is an official holiday in several states and more than 100 municipalities that celebrates the culture and contributions of Native Americans and replaces Columbus Day on the calendar. Support for the alternative holiday has grown in recent years amid controversy about Columbus’s participation in the enslavement of native people and his opening of the Western Hemisphere to colonization.

Mahtowin Munro, co-leader of United American Indians of New England and leader of indigenouspeoplesdayma.org, listed a series of demands as she spoke outside the station.

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“Rename the Christopher Columbus park in Boston’s waterfront. Rename Faneuil Hall. Remove all public white supremacist monuments and names," she said. “No more publicly displayed Columbus statues. The city of Boston needs to consult with and act upon advice from indigenous peoples.”

Chali'Naru Dones, with the United Confederation of Taino People, marches past the Old State House while participating in the Indigenous Peoples Day rally and march on Saturday afternoon.
Chali'Naru Dones, with the United Confederation of Taino People, marches past the Old State House while participating in the Indigenous Peoples Day rally and march on Saturday afternoon. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Protesters also demanded the city permanently remove a statue of the explorer in the North End’s Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park,which was decapitated in June and then placed in storage.

The city announced last week that it had reached an agreement to place the repaired statue at a North Margin Street development of the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization, about a half-mile from the statue’s former home.

On Boston Common Saturday, Chali’Naru Dones stepped up to the microphone in a traditional blouse, skirt, and headdress. She greeted the crowd in the Arawak language — spoken by the Taíno tribe from South America and the Caribbean.

“Fact: Columbus was not even Italian. No one really knows where he came from!” she said before a crowd of hundreds. “Fact: Columbus did not discover anything. How can you discover land that already has inhabitants?”

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Elders in vehicles led marchers through downtown to Faneuil Hall, a historic site that has become controversial because Peter Faneuil, the 18th-century businessman who gave the property to Boston, was a prominent slave trader.

Eva Blake, 44, sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” alongside other marchers,wearing a black mask in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and a sign around her neck with the name of a native once enslaved in Boston.

At Faneuil Hall, the smell of burning sage wafted through the air. One man raised a rainstick in the air. Many supporters chanted, “City by city, town by town, we’re gonna take Columbus down!”

Zamir Nieves, 6, sits in a cart with his younger sister Aminah, 4, while they participate in the Indigenous Peoples Day rally and march on Saturday afternoon.
Zamir Nieves, 6, sits in a cart with his younger sister Aminah, 4, while they participate in the Indigenous Peoples Day rally and march on Saturday afternoon. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Madison Loos, 26, said she was there to show her support as a white ally.

“We don’t spend enough time identifying the pain that Columbus caused, and the trigger that it is to people today,” she said. “As a white woman, I think it’s important to use my privilege for something I believe in and important as this.”

Myke Reid, 32, held a hand-painted sign saying “Make America Native Again.”

“America was never great to begin with,” he said. “Massachusetts has a long history of colonialism. [Today] means everything to me. I’m glad people are finally seeing that there’s a problem and there’s a way to fix it.”

Stefania Lugli can be reached at stefania.lugli@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @steflugli.