After years of being petitioned to remove a statue that has come to mean both the subjugation and genocide of Native Americans, the city of Los Angeles removed the 45-year-old statue of Christopher Columbus in Grand Park near City Hall this weekend.
Andrew Morales, who is a Native American Gabrielino-Tongva from the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, looked at the empty space and was overcome with emotion.
"When I saw it come down, I was lost with words," Morales said on Saturday. "To me it was a fight for a long time that finally came to this day."
Over 200 people gathered for a ceremony and celebration before city workers lifted the statue off its base with a crane. The statue's removal came less than a month after Los Angeles' first Indigenous Peoples' Day, a holiday that celebrates indigenous peoples of America instead of Christopher Columbus.
Although some Italian-American groups opposed the city recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day, there were no visible protestors as the statue was removed. One such group, Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, have pushed for efforts to keep Columbus Day and monuments to the Italian sailor.
The Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, or LANAIC, played a leading role in petitioning to take down the statue.
Many people got emotional listening to indigenous leaders share the significance of the statue's removal with the crowd. According Vice Chairwoman of LANAIC Chrissy Castro, this day has been years in the making.
"It was an emotional day for all of us," Castro said.
In partnership with County Supervisor Hilda Solis and City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, LANAIC faced some pushback in its efforts to remove the statue.
"Some people didn't want to see the statue down. So we really had to go to lengths to explain why this was so meaningful," Castro said.
The commission is requesting the city permanently remove the statue from the county arts collection, according to Castro.
Shannon Rivers of the Akimel O'otham tribe in Arizona was one of the speakers at the event. He shared the impact the statue's removal has on the indigenous community and the Los Angeles community as a whole.
"My feeling is one of joy and pride for the people of Los Angeles," Rivers said. "This is the beginning of the changing of the narrative of the American story."
Rivers led the ceremony on the grassy lawn adjacent to the statue with traditional ceremonial dances and prayers. At the base of the statue, leaders lit tobacco to bless the uncovered ground.
For now, a granite base remains in the park with Columbus' name on it with no statue on top.
"That's always protocol to lay down tobacco or put medicine down in a place where there was hardship," he said. "A renewal to acknowledge that our people and our ancestors were here before."