Protesters tear down Christopher Columbus statue on Minnesota Capitol grounds

American Indian Movement member Mike Forcia, who is Anishanaabe, stands on the neck of a statue of Christopher Columbus at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, June 10. Evan Frost / MPR News

ST. PAUL -- Protesters in St. Paul on Wednesday toppled a statue of Christopher Columbus outside the state Capitol amid continuing anger over the death of George Floyd.

The protesters threw a rope around the 10-foot bronze statue Wednesday afternoon and pulled it off its granite pedestal on the northeastern corner of the Capitol Mall.

The protesters, including Dakota and Ojibwe Indians, said they consider Columbus a symbol of genocide against Native Americans. They said they had tried many times to remove it through the political process, but without success.

They also demanded justice for Floyd, who died May 25 after being arrested by Minneapolis police.

State Patrol troopers in helmets, who provide security at the Capitol complex, stood by at a distance but did not try to stop the protesters, who celebrated afterward with Native American singing and drumming.


With bystanders whistling and cheering him on, one man stepped on the toppled statue's head and said he wanted everyone to come up and "kick him in the face."

And many did.

According to video posted to Twitter by Minnesota Public Radio, that man also told a state trooper on the scene that pulling the statue down was part of the recent protesting in the Twin Cities, saying, "This is part of that ... the paradigm shift has started."

The troopers eventually formed a line to protect the toppled statue so it could be taken away.

The statue of Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota State Capitol grounds falls to the grond as a group of people pull it over on Wednesday, June 10. Evan Frost / MPR News

Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said earlier Wednesday that authorities had "heard through social media" that a group threatened to take down the statue. He said state officials "will be out there to meet with the group and explain to them the legal process" for getting a statue removed.

"We'll be out there to meet with them to have that conversation. If this is something the community and the Legislature and all the parties that have to be part of that decision agree with, then there is a lawful process to do that."


Democratic Gov. Tim Walz then was asked if the state should consider removing objectionable statues, he said yes. “This question of symbolism is important.”

Later Wednesday night, State Patrol officials released a statement saying that their troopers, along with the Department of Public Safety tribal liaison, met with the organizer of the event when he arrived and “explained the administrative process to remove the statue.”

But at one point, individuals tied a rope around the statue and toppled it.

No one was arrested at the event; however, the State Patrol identified the instigator, who could face charges related to destruction of public property. Once the State Patrol’s investigation is complete, it will be turned over to the Ramsey County attorney’s office.

One Republican legislative leader criticized the Walz administration’s handling of the matter.

Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said in a statement: “After speaking to Commissioner Harrington and learning of the decisions he made on behalf of the administration whether to protect or not to protect property on the Capitol grounds I was frustrated and alarmed the decision was made to not deploy sufficient State Trooper presence in order to protect property. There is a process to petition the removal of artwork at the Capitol, pulling it down with a rope isn’t that process.”

But Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who is a citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, had a different reaction, saying on social media: “I can’t say I’m sad the statue of Christopher Columbus is gone. I’m not.

“All Minnesotans should feel welcome at the Minnesota State Capitol, and our state is long overdue for a hard look at the symbols, statues, and icons that were created without the input of many of our communities.


“The arrival of Christopher Columbus to what is now the Americas set in motion centuries of violence and genocide against the Indigenous people who already lived here. As the highest-ranking Native woman elected to executive office in the country, I have often reflected on the fact that I could see a statue honoring that legacy from my office window. It was a constant reminder that our systems were not built by or for Native people or people of color, but in many cases, to exclude, erase, and eliminate us. Tonight, I’m thinking of all the Native children who might now feel more welcome on the grounds and in the halls of their state government.”

Statues of Columbus were also damaged this week in Boston and Richmond, Va., as protesters angered by the death of Floyd have continued to direct some of their frustration toward monuments, including Confederate statues, that they consider to be symbols of racism.

In Boston, the head of a statue of Columbus in the city’s North End neighborhood was removed overnight Tuesday, and pieces of it were found nearby, police said Wednesday.

In Richmond on Tuesday evening, a Columbus statue was torn down and tossed into a lake in a city park where protesters had gathered for a demonstration in support of indigenous peoples.

The debate over statuary has also spread to Europe, where protesters on Sunday in the English port of Bristol vented their anger at the country’s colonial history by toppling a statue of a 17th-century slave trader.

American Indian Movement member Mike Forcia, who is Anishanaabe, raises his hands after the statue of Christopher Columbus at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, June 10, was taken down. Evan Frost / MPR News

The Columbus statue in St. Paul was a gift to the state from Minnesota's Italian-Americans. Installed in 1931, it was located near the southeast corner of the Capitol building.

Native American activist groups have called for removing the Columbus statue in the past, asserting that Columbus did not "discover" America, as an inscription on the monument stated, but instead enslaved the indigenous people of the continent.

In 2017, a progressive group launched an online petition drive, signed by more than 5,000, calling for then-Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature to replace the Columbus statue with one of Prince and another statue selected by the state's Native communities.

At the time, Paul Mandell of the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board said there were no plans to get rid of the statue.

"We've never removed a statue," he said in a Pioneer Press article. It would break a promise to the organization, in this case Minnesota's Italian-American community that devoted time and money to erect the monument, he said.

Mandell could not be reached Wednesday evening for comment.

In 2016, Dayton issued a statewide proclamation changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in response to outcries that Columbus spurred centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.

St. Paul has celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day as an official city holiday since 2015. Minneapolis made the change a year earlier.

Bill Salisbury contributed to this report.

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