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Columbus Statue Raises Controversy

People who say Christopher Columbus played a role in slave trading and European colonial decimation of native people will ask the town council Monday night not to put a donated Columbus statue on town property next month.

As of Friday afternoon, 50 people had signed the letter written by a Facebook group called "Southington Women For Progress" who decided this summer to speak up against any monument to Columbus on public land.

"We started talking about it after seeing a [June 2017] newspaper story about the statue posted on the 'Southington Talks' Facebook page," Erica Roggeveen Byrne said Friday. "We don't think Columbus should be on public land. Private land, that's OK. But not public. It sends a message about what our values are. It also sets a precedent about private groups providing statues to be installed on public land."

In the letter, the group says the traditional view of Columbus as a brave hero and explorer ignores his role "in spearheading the transatlantic slave trade and in initiating the genocide of the Hispaniola natives, which set the stage for the widespread genocide of native American people."

The group asks the council to revisit its approval of the statue's placement on public land.

Town Manager Garry Brumback and Deputy Town Manager Mark Sciota said Friday they had no idea about any opposition to the statue of Columbus.

It's the first instance in town of the national debate about removing public sculptures of historic figures some consider divisive and not worthy of public honor. Most recently, the debate has focused on statues of Confederate leaders on display in the South.

But controversy about Columbus arose in some places, with Cambridge, Mass., and Los Angeles both changing the name of the Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Ruth Garby Torres, a retired state trooper of Schaghticoke Indian descent who now is a trustee of the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Conn., said Friday the controversy about Columbus is slowly growing nationwide.

"When you drill down a little deeper into Columbus, you'll hold him in a less favorable light. It isn't taught in our history classes. We don't like to challenge our American mythology," she said.

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