On the Fringe of 450

On September 8th, 2015, thousands flocked to St. Augustine's Mission Nombre de Dios to watch Pedro Menendez de Aviles re-claim this land for Spain. It's St. Augustine's 450th birthday, and the reenactment of the Spanish landing is one of the final commemorative activities scheduled. All weekend, the Nation's Oldest City put its best foot forward with a variety of musical acts, cultural displays, fireworks and birthday cake. 

The mission of the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration is to...tell the story of St. Augustine’s 450 years of rich multicultural history and enduring people.
— "St. Augustine 450th Commemoration," www.staugustine-450.com

But not everyone welcomed Celebrate 450!

Environmental and social justice groups criticized the City of St. Augustine, saying the weekend's events are insulting to native peoples whose history here extends much further than 450 years. Resist 450, a coalition of activists, protested the celebration, including Menendez's landing at the Mission. The group asked the City for more sensitivity to indigenous peoples whose ancestors were illegally captured, imprisoned, and killed by Europeans—and Americans—over the last 450 years. "When you’re editing history, especially in an official, public event," says Resist 450 supporter Benjamin Franklin (yes, his real name), "then you are explicitly endorsing some points of view and erasing other ones."

 Resist 450 protestors flank Spanish reenactors at St. Augustine's Mission Nombre de Dios. Photo courtesy of Walter Coker.

Resist 450 protestors flank Spanish reenactors at St. Augustine's Mission Nombre de Dios. Photo courtesy of Walter Coker.

How should we commemorate historical milestones like this? What can we learn from the stories we tell about ourselves? Today on Watershed, we grapple with these ideas to spotlight our cultural landscape, and the different ideas of history weaving through it.

 Bobby C. Billie, a spiritual leader and member of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Aboriginal Peoples, protests Celebrate 450!. Photo courtesy of Walter Coker. 

Bobby C. Billie, a spiritual leader and member of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Aboriginal Peoples, protests Celebrate 450!. Photo courtesy of Walter Coker. 

 Billie stands with Resist 450 at St. Augustine's Mission Nombre de Dios. Photo courtesy of Walter Coker.  

Billie stands with Resist 450 at St. Augustine's Mission Nombre de Dios. Photo courtesy of Walter Coker.  

I don’t think Ponce de Leon and Columbus and Pedro Menendez—they didn’t discover [Florida]. We had history. And you’re still not hearing us.
— Bobby C. Billie addressing the St. Augustine City Commission in 2013

LINKS:

-St. Augustine soup: St. Augustine's 450th Commemoration Director says we're a melting pot of multiculturalism.

-Telling a more inclusive story: great coverage of the 450th demonstrations in Folio Weekly by St. Augustine's own Greg Parlier, and an article from the Florida Times-Union. Also, hear Bobbie C. Billy's full presentation to the St. Augustine City Commission in 2013. Billy is a spiritual leader and member of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation of Aboriginal Peoples.

-400 years young: how we celebrated the quadricentennial.

-Expanding the St. Augustine story: eight things you may not know about the Oldest City. Knowledge = power.

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