Building on Interfaith Works Dialogue Circles convened by Mayor, group to make recommendations for a comprehensive education and learning site at Columbus Circle

Mayor will include voices of Native Americans, Italian Americans, Black and other communities of color, advocacy organizations, government and Dialogue Circles participants to serve

“I made a commitment to seek understanding, common ground, and healing for our community. I want the opportunity to finish the job and serve as a model for other communities,” Mayor Walsh said.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh announced today he will form a Columbus Circle Action Group to advise the City of Syracuse on the creation of an all-season, education and learning site at the downtown park space that has been home to a statue of Christopher Columbus since 1934. Walsh said the group’s charge will include recommendations on the presence of the monument in the Circle.

“When I convened the Columbus Dialogue Circles with Interfaith Works in 2018, I made a commitment to seek understanding, common ground, and healing for our community. I want the opportunity to finish the job and serve as a model for other communities,” Mayor Walsh said. “No one had to ask us to conduct dialogue circles when I took office. We did it because it was the right thing to do. In creating a comprehensive learning site at Columbus Circle, I remain committed to doing the right thing.”

Three different Dialogue Circles met between September 2018 and July 2019.  The groups met for over a month, studying differing viewpoints about Columbus, the roles that Native Americans and Italian immigrants played in American history and in our Central New York community, and why this issue is so complex today. At the conclusion of the circles, Interfaith Works prepared a report with recommendations from the dialogue, which included a proposal to “make Columbus Circle a Heritage Site that includes the statue, as well as plaques or interactive displays that explain Haudenosaunee life, current situation, and the genocide. (Dialogue Circles Report, P. 6)

The report also included recommendations to conduct a community education campaign; modify the existing monument; add an additional Native American monument; involve Native Americans in current Columbus celebrations; as well as to change the Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day or to add a separate Indigenous Peoples Day. All recommendations were not endorsed by all participants. 

Mayor Walsh hosted a “Common Ground Forum” in September 2019 which brought together Dialogue Circle participants holding widely different viewpoints for further discussion of solutions.  He also participated in a three-hour Kairos Blanket Exercise, an interactive educational program on the history of Indigenous peoples in North America.

“This process has reaffirmed my view that maintaining the status quo at Columbus Circle is not something I can accept. The dialogue, which was emotional and hard at times, also confirmed my belief that we must create understanding on the way to the change that is needed, or we will only get new division and hurt,” Walsh said.

A critical finding of the Dialogue Circles convened by Mayor Walsh was the realization among participants that righting the wrongs of oppression at different times in U.S. history are at the basis of very differing viewpoints on Columbus. The Interfaith Works report included this summary of history and perspectives:

“The group came to a common ground understanding that the lifting up of Columbus as an American hero grew out of a time of severe oppression of Italian immigrants who sought a way to claim their right to life in America, and had – only one generation back – been forced to leave their homeland due to poverty, failed land reform, and fascism. This history fueled much discussion across the dialogue circles about how to proceed taking in account the oppression of Native People through brutal colonization tactics started by the encroachment of European explorers, which attempted to obliterate all native culture. (Dialogue Circles Report, P. 4)”

Mayor Walsh commits to appoint members to the Action Group assuring that voices of Native Americans, Italian Americans, Black and other communities of color, advocacy organizations, and government are heard and considered in the final recommendations. The Mayor said he would seek to have strong representation in the group from people who participated in the Interfaith Works Dialogue Circles or other similar experiences. Mayor Walsh said his administration plans to continue to partner with Interfaith Works for facilitation of the Action Group.

“Planning for this action group was underway early this year, but the pandemic prevented us from getting started,” Mayor Walsh said. “The urgency has risen, and other concerned voices have joined. My goal is to move quickly to develop a vision and implementation plan for the heritage learning and education site.”

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