Colorado

Indian Protesters Seek Trial Wwear-in Using Pipe

By Arthur Kane
Denver Post Staff Writer

Dec. 15, 2000 – Some Columbus Day parade protesters who face trials for obstructing the event want to hold a traditional pipe while swearing to tell the truth instead of holding up their right hands.

Attorneys for the American Indian protesters filed a motion, scheduled to be heard by judges today, seeking to allow them to use a pipe as their method of swearing in before giving testimony.

“The pipe is an affirmation of telling the truth rather than subscribing to some foreign, Western or Christian way,” said Glenn Morris, a Colorado director of the American Indian Movement.

Morris said there is precedent for using the pipe in court. It was used for the swearing-in process during AIM leader Russell Means’ 1992 trial for protesting Columbus Day, he said.

About 140 people were arrested on Oct. 7 for loitering or interference while blocking the path of the Columbus Day parade for about an hour.

Three Denver district judges will hear motions today, including the pipe request, in the cases of 131 protesters who are going to trial.

The defendants also are asking the judges to disqualify the Denver city attorney’s office from prosecuting the case, saying it has a conflict of interest because City Attorney J. Wallace Wortham participated in pre-parade negotiations with the Indians and Italian-Americans.

The attorneys have subpoenaed Mayor Wellington Webb and some of his top staff to testify in the recusal motion, but prosecutors say there is no reason for them to testify and want the subpoenas quashed. The judges are expected to rule on the motions today.

The subpoenas and recusal motions have been known for a while, but the motion on the pipe was filed this week.

Prosecutors argue that the pipe would taint the proceedings. “Witnesses are not required to swear on the Bible or any other sacred object,” their motion said. “By requesting certain witnesses be allowed to “swear on the sacred pipe,’ the defendants seek to improperly enhance the credibility of theses witnesses.”

Defense attorney David Lane said prosecutors are trying to be difficult and the defendants have a right to introduce their culture. “If the defense said the sky is blue, prosecutors would say the sky is green,” he added.

Assistant City Attorney John Poley declined to respond. “The rules of ethical conduct do not allow me to comment on the merits of their case,” he said.

Denver County Judge Andrew Armatas also declined to comment about the pipe, saying the arguments on the motions will be heard today.

As the Columbus parade cases move through the courts, Columbus protesters are already looking ahead to next year.

AIM leaders refused to attend a meeting that was to be brokered by religious leaders on Wednesday to discuss the 2001 Columbus Day parade. The meeting was canceled, and Morris said AIM will not meet with parade organizers until they show a good-faith effort to keep references to Columbus out of the parade.

AIM is also organizing “an international mobilization against race hate” for next year’s parade, Morris said. He left open the possibility that the group will try to pre-empt parade organizers in getting a march permit. Parade organizers said the Indians are acting improperly by not negotiating.

“What we’re dealing with are spoiled children who, when the don’t get what they want, pick up their ball and go away,” said C.M. Mangiaracina.

Scores Arrested in Denver’s Columbus Day Parade

By Judith Crosson
October 7, 2000

DENVER (Reuters) – For Italian-Americans it was meant to be a celebration of the man they believe discovered America, but for the Native Americans who were here first the Columbus Day parade on Saturday only rubbed in centuries of agony and broken promises.

The several hundred participants in the parade through downtown Denver smiled and waved, but their greetings were met with chants of “Columbus was a walking plague”, “No more Columbus Day”, and “Go back to Italy”.

Police arrested 147 anti-parade protesters who sat or stood in the middle of the street in hopes of stopping the first Columbus Day parade in the city in nine years, saying the explorer who arrived in the Americas in 1492 was a slave trader who carried out genocide.

Mayor Wellington Webb, whose city spent $100,000 on overtime for police and barricades, said he was grateful the parade, which American Indians had hoped to stop, went off without violence.

“These are two very proud groups of people and both parties worked peacefully and non-violently,” the mayor said.

Colorado was the first state to declare Columbus Day a holiday. The last time Denver tried to stage a parade to mark the day, in 1992, it was canceled at the last minute amid threats of violence.

Parade participant Alberto Navarra, who was born in Italy and now lives in the Denver area, said: “Deep down in our hearts we know what we believe — that Christopher Columbus discovered America.”

Less than 10 minutes after the first marchers stepped off, about 150 protesters stood in the middle of the street, blocking the parade.

Dozens of police acted as a buffer between members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and parade participants, preventing direct confrontation between the two sides.

When the protesters refused to let the parade pass they were arrested and charged with loitering and unlawful assembly. Police said they would end up paying fines of no more than $20.

AIM leader and university professor Glenn Morris waved before police an agreement, later abrogated by parade organizers, under which the name “Columbus” would not have been used.

“We honored the agreement. The city betrayed the agreement. But we honored our pledge,” Morris said after he was arrested.

AIM leader Russell Means, who was among those arrested, spoke out in front of city hall against what he called 508 years of genocide and the “trailer trash mentality” behind the parade.

Means told about 500 supporters: “I’m sorry, but the day of Gandhi and Martin Luther King are over. We’re going to outsmart them.”

He said AIM would ask other nations to put pressure on the United States to remove Columbus Day as a national holiday.

The hastily arranged event sported no bands, although ”That’s Amore” blared from loudspeakers. The parade of three dozen motorcycles, stretch limousines, two Hummers and trucks with names like “The Italian Stallion” would have been over in half-an-hour if not for the delay caused by the protest.

Protesters lining the sidewalk booed a poster of Columbus carried by marchers and jeered first term U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo, an Italian-American who represents suburban Denver, who marched in the parade.

Parade organizers initially agreed to keep “Columbus” out of the event, but later argued that this violated their freedom of speech.

A Columbus Day Parade Has Denver on Edge

By Michael Janofsky
October 5, 2000

For the first time in eight years, Italian-Americans in the Denver area are organizing a Columbus Day parade, scheduled for downtown on Saturday. But the plans have met with such resistance from groups opposed to celebrating Columbus that Gov. Bill Owens says National Guard units will be available to assist the police if protests turn violent.

After four protesters were arrested at the last such parade, in 1991, and fears of violence caused the 1992 event to be canceled minutes before it was to begin, organizers abandoned efforts to obtain permits.

Now, they say, the time has come to stop bowing to threats and protests over the historical role of Columbus, denounced by American Indians, and by large numbers of Hispanics who trace their ancestry to the Indians, as an enslaver and murderer of many native people he encountered.

The organizers and protest groups reached an agreement with the city last month that would have allowed a March for Italian Pride, without references to Columbus; opposition groups promised they would do nothing to interfere.

But several days later, parade organizers backed out of the deal, saying they were entitled to celebrate anything they wanted, a position supported by the Denver branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I want to say what I want to say — that’s our legal right,” one organizer, Carlo Mangiarcina, said in an interview.

Organizers say they signed the agreement in the first place only because they feared that the city would rescind the parade permit if they did not. Municipal officials have since affirmed a right of the marchers to celebrate as they choose.

The dispute has now heated up considerably, with protesters accusing organizers of insensitivity and organizers accusing protesters of planning to incite violence. The organizers say they expect 1,400 people to participate in the parade, and their opponents predict that a thousand or more protesters will line the route. City officials have vowed to have ample police officers on hand to maintain peace.

Although the battle over Columbus has been joined elsewhere as well, other cities and some states have negotiated solutions that satisfy both sides. For example, Alabama, like the country as a whole, celebrates the second Monday in October as Columbus Day, but it also makes that day American Indian Heritage Day. South Dakota celebrates Columbus Day as Native American Day, too.

With no such accommodation here, leaders on both sides have hardened in their positions. Vernon Bellecourt, a leader of the American Indian Movement, calls Columbus “a colonial pirate murderer” responsible for vast genocide.

“For Indian Americans,” Mr. Bellecourt said, “celebrating and glorifying Columbus with a parade would be for Jewish people as if German- Americans celebrated an Adolf Hitler Day. It would be an affront to them; it’s an affront to us.”

Organizers say that atrocities by the European explorers are largely overstated and that in any event Columbus should not be singled out as responsible for them. Mr. Mangiarcina called Indian leaders who are organizing protests “architects of hatred.” He cited remarks by another American Indian Movement leader, Russell Means, who said here this week that he intended to be at the parade with his two sons, ages 15 and 9, and that “if they lay a hand on my children when I’m protesting, then it’s war.”

Cahuilla Red Elk, one of the four people arrested at the parade nine years ago, said the protesters did not intend any violence this weekend. “But,” she said, “there is always that potential any time something like this comes up.”

Mr. Mangiarcina said he had discussed with marchers the possibility that spectators might spit or throw things at them, or curse them.

“We intend to keep the matter peaceful on our side,” he said. “If they want to act the fool, then act the fool. We will not respond.”

On Wednesday, in the latest effort to bridge differences, Mayor Wellington Webb urged the two sides to meet with spiritual leaders to try to reach a compromise. “My hope,” Mr. Webb said in an interview, “is that both parties would sit down as a way to seek common ground so we don’t have disruptions in the city.”

In any case, beyond the sufficient personnel that police officials have vowed to make available, Governor Owens promised added support if necessary.

“I think the city needs to stay between those two groups and make sure that each group’s right to free speech is protected,” he said. “The peace needs to be maintained.”

Citizens’ Groups Protest Ute Wells

By John Peel, Durango Herald Staff Writer
July 10, 1999

A Southern Ute citizens’ group has joined with the San Juan Citizens Alliance to protest a perceived lack of public comment being taken on 39 pending gas wells in La Plata County, 37 of which are located within the Southern Ute reservation boundary.

The Southern Ute Grassroots Organization and the alliance are upset that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which approves drilling permits for gas wells on federal and Indian land, allegedly is not looking at cumulative impacts of the wells.

A 1990 environmental document the BLM is using to approve the wells is inadequate, said Travis Stills, an attorney for the alliance.

Since that time, “all kinds of impacts have been discovered,” Stills said. “To say there are no new impacts … is just disingenuous.”

The BLM said Friday that under federal rules, no public comment is needed to approve the 37 wells on reservation land. It approves wells after consulting with the tribe and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A comprehensive document from 1990 covers all leasing and development on the reservation and satisfies National Environmental Policy Act rules, said Ilyse Auringer, minerals supervisor for the BLM’s San Juan field office.

Auringer said the BLM is working on an environmental impact statement for oil and gas development on the reservation that would replace the 1990 study, and that it should be ready later this summer or in the fall.

“We still feel at this point (the 1990 document) is adequate,” she said. “It’s getting probably to the end of its usefulness.”

Sage Douglas Remington, director of SUGO, said Utes are aware of the “economic boon” the wells provide to tribal members, but are also becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impacts.

The Tribal Council, he said, needs to take a more serious look at impacts that are “integral to the development of a community.”

The BLM, he said, should be taking comment on people’s concerns about water degradation and increased noise and traffic that 37 more wells will bring.

“Based on the history of methane gas contamination, we need to proceed cautiously,” Remington said.

Incidents of methane contamination of water wells in the county have been debated by experts, and there are a variety of opinions as to whether they were caused by gas wells. A state-sponsored study, the San Juan Basin 3M Project, is being done to study the gas field in the county and to look at possible cumulative effects.

Bob Zahradnik, manager of the tribe’s Red Willow Production Co., said the tribe has spent more than $1 million on the upcoming environmental impact statement, which has been in the works for nearly two years. He said the BLM is following its usual approval method.

“I think it’s just routine procedure (being used to approve the wells),” he said. “I don’t know what the flurry is about.”

Of the wells, 24 will be coal-bed methane and 15 will be conventional methane wells drilled into the Dakota or Mesa Verde sandstone formations, Auringer said. Three will be dually drilled into both sandstone formations.

All but one of the coal-bed wells will be either infill or downspacing wells, with one allowed every 160 acres. Up until 1998, the state allowed one well per 320 acres in the county.

In January 1998 the state approved 23 J.M. Huber Corp. infill wells, sparking a cry from citizens for a closer look at well impacts.

Two are BP Amoco coal-bed methane infill wells on BLM land north of the reservation line. Under an agreement between the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the BLM, the COGCC considers infill requests on federal land and the BLM approves the drilling permit.

Auringer said those two wells “will be subject to full public involvement.” She said the BLM won’t hold public hearings, but if there is enough interest, a public meeting could take place.

She emphasized that the BLM periodically receives drilling applications, and that 39 were pending as of Friday. In other words, there wasn’t one application for 39 wells.

Companies planning to drill the wells include Williams, Vastar Resources Inc., BP Amoco, Questar, Red Willow Production Co., S.G. Interests and Four Star Oil and Gas Co.

San Juan Citizens Alliance members said the BLM is not following NEPA standards in this case. Stills said the BLM is required to publicly disclose environmental impacts and alternatives.

“I’m still holding hope they’ll observe federal law and do what they’re supposed to,” Stills said. “I’m strongly hoping they will take a close look at the cumulative impacts of moving to 160 (spacing).”

In draft copies of the BLM’s environmental assessment for each of the reservation wells, the BLM says the 1990 document was sufficient to consider cumulative impacts and “foreseeable development.” The study was titled Environmental Assessment of Oil and Gas Leasing and Development on Southern Ute Indian Reservation, and done by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Albuquerque office.

“This proposed well is within the scope and intent of the EASUIR,” according to the environmental assessment drafts obtained by the alliance.

The environmental assessment analyzed impacts of the potential development of 500 wells. As of April, 406 of the predicted 500 wells had been drilled, the BLM says in the assessment, prepared by the Durango office.  All rights reserved.