The Seattle City Council will be voting on October 6 on a resolution to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. It seems likely at this moment that the motion will pass.
This seems so obvious. Why would anyone want to celebrate a man who was responsible for death by murder, captivity and disease...which is what we do when we celebrate Columbus Day?
the Order of the Sons of Italy in America from the Seattle-Fedele Lodge showed up to decry what they saw as an attack on Italian cultural heritage. The Seattle News reporting on the meeting wrote:
Ethel Branch, a Navajo lawyer from the Seattle Human Rights commission (a group that sponsored and help write the resolution in question) took to the stand after the overwhelming Italian critique to deliver one of the the day's most emotional testimonies, during which she wept.
"I grew up on the reservation, and the children living 20 miles away, off the reservation, lived very different lives than me," Branch said. "Why was it that when I called the police when I was a child, they wouldn't come, but they would if I lived 20 miles away? "
Matt Remle, the Lakota man who first brought to the council the resolution to abolish Columbus Day and institute Indigenous Peoples' Day, was asked by Bruce Harrell to defend the motion after "these people spoke from their hearts."
Remle explained that the historical record maintains that Columbus committed a genocide against the indigenous people he encountered in America that "some historians estimate was in the millions," and that the abolishment of Columbus Day isn't meant to be an attack on Italians at all, but rather "us asking for respect" in regards to Christopher Columbus' legacy of atrocities.
"In the same way a Jewish American wouldn't want to celebrate a Hitler Day, or New Yorkers wouldn't want to celebrate Bin Laden Day, we ask for that same respect," Remle said.
That sent those opposing the change over the edge. They called the measure, the comments, the entire discussion insulting to Italian Americans. Interestingly though Council member Nick Licata, who stated three out of four of his grandparents were from Italy added a different perspective,
I'm Italian, and I am a strong supporter of this resolution, and I think it's important we have it on this day. I don't see it, as an Italian American, as infringing on my rights or ethnic heritage or some expression of hate. My experience with Italian Americans is that we are very gracious and have done a lot in history to work with other folks, and I see this as a way of extending that tradition to other people to respect them. Columbus was Italian, and we celebrate the individual because he was Italian, but not because of his actions. I think that's one of the things we're stuck on—we're linking Columbus the man to Italian heritage.
"No one individual, no matter how great or poorly they behaved, should be linked to an entire heritage. Columbus acted in ways we find today horrid, and in fact, our own leaders did too. Washington was one of the largest slaveholders in America at the time. We had former president Jackson, who led to the death of thousands of people on the Trail of Tears. I grew up celebrating Columbus Day, and quite honestly, I never thought of it as an Italian celebration day. It was a celebration of the European discovery of the new world. We can still and certainly should manifest our pride in Italian culture in as many ways as we can, but we need to recognize that there were cultures here before him that are worth celebrating too."
The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was born in 1977, at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on discrimination against indigenous populations in the Americas. Fourteen years later, activists in Berkeley, CA, convinced the Berkeley City Council to declare October 12 a "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People." Henceforth, there has been a growing movement to appropriate "Columbus Day" as "Indigenous People's Day."
I think I will conclude with the comments of Aisha Brown of the DC Progressive Examiner,
For many in the United States, Columbus Day is just another holiday. It is a time to spend with family and friends, an opportunity to take a short vacation, an extra day of rest from a long work week, or it is the last chance for a barbecue before winter. But for others, it is a sharp and painful reminder that history has betrayed and forgotten the contributions of their people, the lives lost, and a rich culture that pre-dated colonization.
From the moment a sailor aboard the Pinta sighted land from the sea, on October 12, 1492, the course of indigenous history was forever changed. Upon landing on what is now the Bahamas, once known as Guanahani, Columbus encountered indigenous peoples of the Lucayan, Taíno or Arawak, nations. Peaceful and friendly, Columbus and his Spanish explorers manipulated their hospitality and mercilessly slaughtered, enslaved, and stole lands in the name of the Spanish crown. He wrote of them in his journal, "They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them."
In his four voyages to the Americas, traveling extensively throughout the Caribbean and Central America, each voyage became more deadly than the first. Within two years of his initial landing historians estimate that half of what is believed to have been 250,000 Taino people were massacred. Remaining survivors were either sold into European slavery, forced to mine gold for the Spaniards in the Americas, and many later died of disease.
Even after Columbus' death, the brutality he implemented on the island of Hispañola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti) endured. By 1550, only a few hundred Taino remained in Hispañola and in Mexico and estimated indigenous population of 25 million was decimated to 1 million by 1605.
This drastic decrease in the indigenous populations of the Americas, later brought about the trans-Atlantic African slave trade, and was followed by indentured Chinese labor after slavery's abolition. The thirst of cheap labor and the blood of the indigenous, Africans, and Chinese, still stain the soil that is the foundation of development in the New World.
The following is from Indian Country Today.
SEATTLE POISED TO REPLACE COLUMBUS DAY WITH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' DAY