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Group plans protest for Chasco Fiesta

American Indian Movement leaders are taking their complaints to the people but say their demonstration will be non-violent.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Leaders of the American Indian Movement of Florida plan to protest the upcoming Chasco Fiesta.

"After five years of getting nowhere, we had no choice but to begin actively protesting to bring about some sort of change," said Sheridan Murphy, state executive director for AIM. He expects 50 to 100 people for a protest that is "creatively non-violent but confrontational," and involves making noise or picketing.

AIM takes issue with the legend that is the basis of the festival, which runs from March 22 to April 1. "The mythical portrayal celebrates the genocide of the Calusa" and "dehumanizes and devalues traditional indigenous spirituality and culture," AIM said Monday in a news release.

But further in the release, AIM goes on to describe the legend in which Queen Chasco is "of the Calusa" Indian tribe and "abandons her people for the ways of the dominant society." Official Chasco Fiesta literature says the legend is that a Spanish boy and girl are captured by the Calusa Indian tribe and later wed as Queen Chasco and King Pithla.

Ruby Beaulieu, AIM's Pasco director, acknowledged the mistake, but maintained her objection to the festival.

"The legend makes inference that the native people were considered subhumans before the Spanish people came over," she said.

Last year, AIM filed a complaint with the state attorney general. In the fall, AIM met with Chasco Fiesta coordinators. In January, AIM urged tourists to boycott Pasco County and for Chasco Fiesta sponsors to revoke their support. The latter was a reaction to a portrayal in the Christmas parade that AIM said was "stereotypical and racist."

Wendy Brenner, mayor of New Port Richey and Chasco Fiesta coordinator, acknowledges the story on which Chasco was based might have mentioned heathens and savages, but that's something they can't change, and the pageant makes no mention of it.

"The pageant is a tribute to the Native Americans," she said. AIM is "entitled to their opinions, and they can protest all they want, but I wish they'd get their facts straight." She added that representatives from about 30 tribes will participate in the event.

New Port Richey Police Capt. Darryl Garman said he plans to meet with AIM officials today to discuss the protest. He said that the department wants to make sure they don't interfere with the public event, but also that they have an opportunity and a location for their message to be heard.

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