Replicas Of Columbus' Ships, Which Are To Dock In Arkansas, Draw Protests Elsewhere

Aug 3, 2017

A Native American protester outside one of two replicas of ships used by explorer Christopher Columbus that were on display in Oswego, New York. The ships will travel up the Arkansas River for stops in Little Rock and Fort Smith this fall.
Credit Great Lakes Today

Replicas of two ships used by explorer Christopher Columbus, which led to the European colonization of the Americas, are to visit Arkansas in October and November. The replicas of Niña and Pinta are traveling together around the U.S. to help people learn more about the voyage in 1492 that led to the discovery of what was called the New World.

But a recent stop along Lake Ontario in north-central New York drew protests from Native Americans who say the ships only tell half of the story.

As Payne Horning with Great Lakes Today reports:

Teaching is the motivation for many of the crew's 14 members, all of whom are volunteers. Jeff Hicks says their mission is to inform people about Columbus and the explorers who followed. "He did discover for it the old world, they knew nothing of this part of the world," Hicks said. "We celebrate the age of discovery because without that we as Americans today and in this part of the world would not be here."

That's not a legacy all in Oswego, New York were eager to celebrate.

The replicas were surrounded by protestors in canoes and kayaks. On the pier, other protestors carried signs. Kahionwinehshon, a Native American and member of the Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, noted that the age of exploration brought with it mass murder, slavery and diseases for the original people of the Americas. "To make a replica of the ships that did that to our own people and to even let it sail into these waters isn’t right," Kahionwinehshon said. "It’s a huge slap into the face."

But there are hopes this can open more discussions about unpleasant aspects of history.

Professor Philip Arnold, who teaches Native American and indigenous studies at Syracuse University, says those issues still resonate today and should not be ignored. "It’s hard to get over that trauma," he said. "It’s as if we were to ask Jews to get over the Holocaust or something akin to that. I think a discussion would be good for everybody."

A schedule for the ships shows that in the coming months they will travel down the Mississippi River, then up the Arkansas River with two stops in the state for visitors.

  • Friday, Oct. 20- Sunday, Oct. 29 -- Little Rock, Julius Breckling Riverfront Park
  • Wednesday, Nov. 1- Tuesday, Nov. 7 -- Fort Smith, 4831 Riverfront Drive 

The replicas are then expected to travel into Oklahoma.