American Indians may disrupt Chasco
By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
NEW PORT RICHEY -- In 1993, American Indian protesters offended by a parade in Bradenton threw 97 gallons of fish guts across the route.
Now they're threatening the same at the Chasco Fiesta parade on Saturday -- or something even more inventive.
"We don't want to do more than we have to do to bring change," said Sheridan Murphy, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Florida. But "we had to throw fish to get change at the DeSoto festival. We don't want to have to do that here, but we will get creative."
On Wednesday, as the group did just before last year's Chasco, AIM asked for injunctions to stop the Krewe of Chasco's "racist" portrayals of American Indians and permanently end a pageant that was already canceled this year.
If their legal efforts fail, AIM organizers say the 81st annual parade could be disrupted the way Bradenton's was a decade ago.
Is that a threat?
"I don't know if it's a threat," Murphy said. "We're here to get change out of Chasco."
It worked in Bradenton.
A year after the fish gut fracas, Manatee County's annual Hernando DeSoto celebration changed its name to the Florida Heritage Festival, and the activities became culturally inclusive.
"We threw 97 gallons of chum (shark bait) in front of the parade," Murphy said. Critics argued that the parade glorified a Spanish conquistador who murdered and enslaved thousands of American Indians.
Two protesters were convicted of littering and disorderly conduct.
New Port Richey's Chasco Fiesta, a major fundraiser for local nonprofit agencies, came under fire from the group three years ago after talks begun in 1995 failed to address AIM's concerns.
The event is based on a fictional story written by a former postmaster depicting the capture of a Spanish expedition by Calusa Indians. A priest and a Spanish girl and boy were spared. The children grew to become king and queen of the Indians, converting them to Christianity, according to the story.
The myth and the festival perpetuate stereotypes of Indians as savages, say AIM members, who are critical of white residents dressing in Indian regalia during the event.
Last year the group delayed the parade when AIM members and supporters entered the street and blocked floats. Police moved them back.
The 2002 injunction request was dismissed hours before the parade's start by Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Stanley Mills -- a nominee for king of Chasco this year.
Wednesday afternoon, AIM supporter Dan Callaghan filed an amended injunction asking that Chasco's pageant, which was canceled this year, be permanently removed from the 11-day celebration. The injunction also asks that the parade eliminate the Krewe of Chasco float.
Callaghan called the filings "our last best effort to peacefully end this."
"In all honesty, I'm expecting a problem," he said. "AIM has vowed to end the parade this year."
Joe Alpine, president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, which runs the festival, said organizers intend to let their attorney handle the legal filings and police handle protesters.
"I guess that's up to them if they want to disrupt it," he said of the festival, which runs today through March 30.
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