On October 6, 2014, Seattle’s city council passed a resolution declaring the second Monday in October (formerly Columbus Day) to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day. On October 13, Bellingham changed Columbus Day to Coast Salish Day and Portland, Oregon’s schools officially dropped Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The next day, about forty local supporters attended Olympia’s city council meeting to urge the city to institute our own Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The celebration of Columbus Day has upset and angered indigenous Americans since its creation in 1934, but they’re not the only ones who disagree with the holiday. Although many historical figures don’t entirely measure up to modern mores, Christopher Columbus’ history is truly appalling. Columbus, who never actually set foot on the land that we now call the United States, was brutal in his quest for gold. According to his own diary, Columbus kidnapped six Taino people on his very first trip to shore, “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”
He noted that, “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” On return trips, he instituted barbaric punishments, including mutilation and death, for anyone who refused to carry out his orders; allowed his men to keep young girls as sex slaves (“those from nine to ten are now in demand,” he noted in his diary); and then kidnapped 500 people to bring back to Spain as slaves, beginning the international slave trade. 200 of the kidnapped Taino people died before reaching Spain.
Though the recent spate of cities enacting Indigenous Peoples’ Day (beginning with Minneapolis in April) has a breathtaking momentum, the push to create the holiday has been ongoing for more than thirty-seven years. In 1977, representatives from more than sixty indigenous nations across North and South America attended the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas (sponsored by the United Nations). It was there that the idea of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first officially proposed, and a resolution passed.
Thirteen years later, representatives from 120 native nations met in Ecuador for the First Continental Conference on 500 years of Indian Resistance, and once again agreed that Columbus Day should be abolished in favor of a holiday “to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation.”
More recently, and more locally, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians passed resolution #11-57 in 2011 to “Support to Change Columbus Day (2nd Monday of October) to Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. Our neighbors in the Nisqually, Chehalis, Duwamish, Puyallup, Squaxin and Suquamish nations are all members of the Affiliated Tribes.
Public comment on the topic of Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Olympia’s city council meeting began with Anna Sublan, of the Quileute nation. “We are asking you to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” she began, “because our old people suffered so that I could be here today.”
The issue of whether the creation of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day would technically replace Columbus Day in Olympia was a bit uncertain.
“We don’t celebrate Columbus Day. We don’t acknowledge it,” City Manager Steve Hall explained before the public comment period began. He noted, “There is one small exception – we don’t enforce downtown parking on that day. Not to celebrate Christopher Columbus, but because we don’t want to confuse our customers, because the banks are closed and the federal government’s closed.”
Heads nodded in the audience as Anna Sublan said, “The public doesn’t see federal law, the public doesn’t see state law. This is something that we just see in the general. As people.”
The theme of what we chose to celebrate, and what it means for our community, continued through other supporters’ testimony.
“I want my daughter and kids in our community to grow up with respect for each other and for cultures not their own,” Laura Kaszynski said. “We can do better than Columbus. We can do a lot better.”
Supporters spoke to the healing potential of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the relationships with local nations and native citizens that could be strengthened, and the sense that the new holiday would be a step toward acknowledging and mending historical wrongs.
“I want the place that I live in to continue the reconciliation with the tribes,” Brian Frisina stated. “There are bad things that happened on this land. We can make a difference.”
“Honor the first people by giving them that day back,” he continued.
Lucas Anderson, who organized supporters’ attendance via social media, spoke to the deep respect that Olympia’s community and city government has with our native neighbors, “These very halls,” he said, gesturing at the council’s chambers, “were blessed ceremoniously by local Salish elders.”
“This is noble and healing work,” he said.
At the end of the public comment period, council members Cooper and Roe moved for the issue to be sent to the General Government committee, and the council agreed. Although a specific date for when the draft resolution will be discussed in committee has not been set, organizers are beginning the work of bringing the draft resolution to local tribes for edits and endorsements. Additional outreach to the Olympia community, including businesses and faith organizations, is being planned.
“We have a very exciting opportunity,” Lucas Anderson said during his comment, “to not only end up on the right side of history, but to do our part, however small, in healing some part of that history itself. Let’s make yesterday the last Columbus day we honor in Olympia. Let’s do the right thing and change the day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day so that next year we can stand in these halls, hand in hand, with a celebration honoring the noble and healing work that this community stands for.”
To find out more about the Olympia movement to create Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including reading the draft resolution, please see our blog at www.olyindigenouspeoplesday.wordpress.com. You can also email us at email@example.com.
Letters to Olympia’s city council and to The Olympian are encouraged. Council members can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jayne Rossman is part of the working group to institute Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Olympia.
DRAFT resolution declaring the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day 10.17.14
A RESOLUTION relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day; declaring the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the City of Olympia; and encouraging other institutions to recognize the Day.
WHEREAS, the City of Olympia recognizes that Indigenous Nations have lived upon this land since time immemorial and values the progress our society has accomplished through American Indian technology, thought, and culture; and
WHEREAS, the City recognizes the fact that Olympia is built upon the homeland and meeting places of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the City would not have been possible; and
WHEREAS, the Medicine Creek Treaty, which established the future formal relationship between the U.S. and Native Nations and provided the foundation for Washington’s Boldt decision, was signed at the Nisqually delta, and
WHEREAS, the offspring of the original Treaty Tree, under which the Medicine Creek Treaty was signed, now grows within City limits as a testimony to the ongoing responsibilities agreed to by the signatories; and
WHEREAS, the City promotes the closing of the equity gap for Indigenous Peoples through policies and practices that reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, ensure greater access and opportunity, and honor our nation’s indigenous roots, history, and contributions; and
WHEREAS, Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the United Nations- sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas; and
WHEREAS, in 2011 the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing 59 Tribes from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Northern California, Western Montana and some Alaskan Tribes, passed resolution #11-57 to “Support to Change Columbus Day (2nd Monday of October) to Indigenous Peoples’ Day”; and
WHEREAS, the United States federal government and various local institutions recognize Columbus Day on the second Monday of October, in accordance with the federal holiday established in 1937.
Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by The City Council of The City of Olympia: That the City of Olympia shall hereafter recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Indigenous Peoples’ Day shall be used to celebrate the thriving culture and values that the Squaxin, Nisqually, Puyallup, Chehalis, Suquamish, Duwamish, and other Indigenous nations add to our city, and to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of indigenous people on this land.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Olympia reaffirms our ongoing commitment to fostering communication with local nations on issues concerning indigenous people.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Olympia strongly encourages Olympia Public Schools to include the teaching of indigenous peoples’ history and the contribution of American Indian nations to the state of Washington, as stated in the Millennial Accord of 1999 and recommended by Chapter 205, Session Laws of 2005.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Olympia encourages other businesses, organizations and public entities to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.