Open Letter on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, 2016
To: Mayor de Blasio, New York City Council, and the Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History
Many American cities have bowed to the obvious and renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Why is New York not among them? There is no reason for holding out any longer. It’s time for the Mayor and City Council to stand on the right side of history. New York City sits on the territory of the Lenape, and over one hundred thousand Indigenous people live on this territory today—more than any other city in the United States! Let’s honor the rich legacy and achievements of Native Americans and discard the unsavory celebration of imperial conquest. This public holiday must be relaunched as an occasion to dignify our Indigenous brothers and sisters, it should no longer commemorate a figure widely associated with exploitation and enslavement.
The equestrian status of Theodore Roosevelt on Central Park West outside the American Museum of Natural History has often been cited as the most hated monument in New York City. It’s easy to see why. A stark embodiment of the white supremacy that Roosevelt himself espoused and promoted, the statue is an affront to all who pass it on entering the museum, but especially to African and Native Americans. Statuary is not forever, and a monument that appears to glorify racial hierarchies should be retired from public view. The international movement that began with the dismantling of Cecil Rhodes’ statue at the University of Cape Town, and escalated in this country with the removal of Confederate flags and generals from public display, has come to New York. The statue is city-owned, and it sits on Parks Department land. City Council members should all agree—it’s time to take Teddy down.
Why are indigenous cultural artifacts still in the American Museum of Natural History, while their Greek and Roman counterparts are housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art across the park? Because New York’s premier scientific museum continues to honor the bogus racial classification that assigned colonized peoples to the domain of Nature and the colonizers to the realm of Culture. It’s time to accept that The Hall of African Peoples does not belong in the same exhibition framework as The Akeley Hall of African Mammals, or that Indigenous cultures need to be presented in ways that are distinct from the display of fossils and meteorites. These arrangements should be reviewed and reconceived by representatives of the “exhibited” populations. Human remains, sacred things, and objects of power stolen from Indigenous peoples should be placed under the authority of the descendants. The American Museum of Natural History has long been an embarrassment to New Yorkers. It needs a serious renovation, to be undertaken by a diverse range of curators drawn from the populations featured in the museum.
NYC Stands with Standing Rock
Decolonize This Place
This letter, including all signatures, will be delivered to Mayor de Blasio and New York City Council on November 30, 2016. You may add your signature to the letter here. Thank you for your support!