Some protesters greet Columbus Columbus ships at stop in downtown Lorain

BY NICOLE HENNESSY
WESTSHORE – Replicas of Christopher Columbus’ ships the Pinta and Nina made their way to Black River Landing in downtown Lorain last week, where families toured them over the weekend – but not without a little controversy.
On docking day last Wednesday, after sailing in from Ashtabula, the volunteer crew tidied the ships, spray-painting weathered pieces and cleaning the deck. They ate popsicles and listened to music: Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix drifted out over the port, as curious onlookers watched from behind the gate. Joking with each other, they told tales of pirates on the Panama Canal demanding cash and cigarettes.
Volunteers join the crew from all over the country, hopping on sometimes randomly and then riding along for at least one month. For most, it’s an adventure.
And while this seems in good spirit, some are not pleased with The Columbus Foundation, the for-profit company that owns these ships.
By Friday, a group of protestors organized through the American Indian Movement (AIM) of Ohio and The Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance stood under a tent in the pouring rain to make their feelings known.
AIM of Ohio’s executive director Phailat Wenyo said these ships have been followed by activists at each port. Next up for the 15th Century replica vessels is a stop in Traverse City, Mich., where protestors will be waiting.
“For our people, those ships represent colonization,” said Wenyo, who is of Aztec heritage and has been fighting for social justice for more than 30 years.
Reaching America in the Pinta, Nina and Santa Maria, he said, “was the start of the genocide of our people.” Wenyo said he’s all for showing historical ships like these, “but don’t call them the Pinta and Nina.”
This, to him, is profiting off the suffering of indigenous peoples.
The foundation offered a general comment in response to protestors: “We hope the protests are seen as an educational experience and that everything remains respectful.”
On Wednesday afternoon, before the crowds and protesters arrived, Tom Vaeth, a crew member, worked to ready the ships for visitors. On the adventure of a lifetime, he said it’s as simple as see the ships docked, and “just hop on board.”
Tom Martin, who owns Bam, Pow, Boom Comics, Games and Skate Shop in Ashtabula did just that, filling a rare short-term space over the weekend before heading home.
Sailing into Lorain, Martin slept on the deck beneath the stars.
Wenyo said he has no doubt most of these volunteers are good people, he just hopes his presence ensures that the brutality of Christopher Columbus isn’t forgotten.
A few cities, recognizing the violent past of America, forgo celebrating Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Recently, Oberlin City Council recently supported a resolution to become the first in Ohio to make the switch after a presentation by the Committee for Indigenous People.
City officials later received a hateful email threatening to report them to the US Government. Of those who don’t see why activists continue to speak out, Wenyo said, “I don’t think they understand the gravity.”

Print this story