US protesters mark divided federal holiday by marching on White House

Indigenous activists urge President Biden to declare a climate emergency and end fossil fuel use

Dozens of people were arrested in Washington on Monday as protesters gathered outside the White House to demand an end to fossil fuel projects and to mark Indigenous People's Day.

Small crowds led by Native American activists linked arms in front of the metal fence surrounding the White House and demanded President Joe Biden declares a climate emergency.

“We are going to put our bodies on the line there. If we have to be arrested in order to call attention to what the crisis is and that we need a climate emergency declared, we’ll do that," said Casey Camp Horinek, a tribal elder and environmental ambassador from the Ponca Nation tribe of Oklahoma.

A press release from the organisers, People vs. Fossil Fuel, said police arrested more than 130 demonstrators after authorities demanded they disperse.

In Lafayette Square opposite the White House, someone had painted "Expect us" on the statue of Andrew Jackson, the seventh US president who was known for signing the Indian Removal Act that saw the relocation of tens of thousands of Native Americans in a forced migration that killed thousands.

Indigenous American protesters were heard telling police officers “we are protectors, not protesters.”

The federal Columbus Day holiday honours European explorer Christopher Columbus, whose 1492 arrival in the present-day Bahamas heralded Spanish policies of enslavement and the mass killings of the native Taino population in that part of the Caribbean.

Increasingly, state and local governments are moving away from the holiday, choosing instead to recognise Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Last week, Mr Biden issued a proclamation supporting Indigenous People's Day.

"For generations, federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures," he wrote.

"Today, we recognise Indigenous peoples' resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society."

Updated: October 11th 2021, 10:23 PM