Wednesday, September 24, 2014


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?

“We know Columbus Day is a federal holiday, we are not naive about that, but what we can do and what you have seen is a movement,” said Matt Remle, supporter of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day designation.

The Seattle Public Schools are also discussing doing the same thing.

Meanwhile, a similar effort in Brainerd, Minnesota has been shelved for now.  City Council member Chip Borkenhagen had proposed changing Columbus Day to Native Peoples Day.  Twin reports:

In a recent memo sent to fellow council members, Borkenhagen requested to pull his idea from consideration.

"Clearly our community is not ready to move forward to this on this intellectual level," the memo read. "Clearly, the vocal minority has moaned loud enough to foul the air to the degree that I don't wish to pursue it. We don't need to be distracted to the dimension this seems to be whilst grappling with the financial challenges we are facing now."

Borkenhagen continued in his memo that if Columbus were alive today, "he would be tried as a terrorist and war criminal."

In a brief statement at Monday's meeting, Borkenhagen said many residents aren't aware of the history and "why it's important and why it would make a difference" to change the holiday name.

The Minneapolis City Council voted earlier this year to use "Indigenous Peoples Day" instead of Columbus Day on all city communications, although it will continue to recognize Columbus Day for legal purposes.

Back to Seattle, as the matter there was being discussed at a city council meeting, 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? The lives of Indigenous people are still affected by colonialism! Is it so wrong to want healing?"

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.

However, this is not the history that is taught in schools throughout the United States.  Our children do not learn of the brutality of the explorers, of Native American history and its traditions, nor do we pay homage the cultures that ruled for centuries before Columbus' arrival.  Instead every second Monday of every October of every year, we give our youth a day off to remember and reflect on the "accomplishments" of Christopher Columbus, a nautical pioneer, explorer and a man who ordered the murder and enslavement of thousands.

 The following is from Indian Country Today. 


Richard Walker

The City of Seattle is soon expected to abolish Columbus Day and make the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Jeff Reading, communications director for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, said the City Council’s vote on the change is timed so Murray can sign the resolution on October 13. Reading said there will be cultural celebration at the signing, and indigenous leaders will be invited to speak.
Tulalip Tribes Council member Theresa Sheldon said it’s past time to stop honoring Christopher Columbus, whose exploration of the Caribbean for Spain included enslavement, rape, mutilation and murder.
“On behalf of all our indigenous and non-indigenous ancestors who established the United States of America, it’s a true blessing and about time that all citizens of [the] USA and the City of Seattle support the changing of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day,” Sheldon said.
“Columbus fed newborn babies to his dogs. He cut off the hands of the indigenous people if they refused to be his slave[s] … [He] started a sex trade of 10- to 12-year-old girls for men of privilege to rape.”
She added, “The notion that these Indigenous Peoples had no rights under the Spanish king and their religion, so these acts of terror were acceptable, is completely un-American. We would never support such a villain today. This is the first step in correcting the true history of the United States and recognizing the serious wrongs that were done to a beautiful and loving people, the indigenous people of the [Caribbean].”
Matt Remle, a Hunkpapa Lakota educator and writer, lobbied the Seattle City Council to abolish Columbus Day and establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day, winning the co-sponsorship of council members Bruce Harrell and Kshama Sawant. The council was expected to approve the resolution at its September 2 meeting, but held off because the mayor is required to sign resolutions within 10 days of approval and Murray wants to sign it on October 13.
Remle said the resolution is supported and/or endorsed by 12 organizations and government agencies, including the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Seattle Human Rights Commission, the Northwest Indian Bar Association, the Swinomish Tribe, the Tulalip Tribes, and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.
Remle said he hopes the resolution will “strongly encourage” Seattle Public Schools to adopt indigenous history curricula, as recommended in 2005 by state House Bill 1495 sponsored by Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip; will encourage businesses, organizations and public institutions to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day; and will help promote the well-being and growth of Seattle’s indigenous community.
When signed, Seattle will be one of a growing number of local and state governments to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Others include the California cities of Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Sebastopol; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Dane County, Wisconsin; and the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota. Iowa, Nevada and Oklahoma do not observe Columbus Day; most indigenous nations in Oklahoma observe Native American Day instead of Columbus Day.
Remle first tried to get the Seattle City Council to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2010 or 2011. “The City Council at that time was unresponsive,” he said. His efforts attracted the attention of Margarita Lopez Prentice, who represented parts of Seattle and five neighboring cities in the state Senate. She tried to get a similar measure approved on the state level—at her urging, Remle got a draft resolution endorsed by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians—but she couldn’t get enough votes for approval in the legislature.
Remle said the effort was re-sparked in April this year when the Minneapolis City Council approved a resolution abolishing Columbus Day and establishing Indigenous Peoples’ Day “to better reflect the experiences of American Indian people and uplift our country's Indigenous roots, history, and contributions.”
“Part of what we’re pushing for is we want a true and accurate history of [Indigenous Peoples] taught in our schools,” said Remle, the Native American liaison in the Marysville School District near Tulalip.
His daughter attends Chief Sealth High School in Seattle, named for the 19thcentury leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish peoples and first signer of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, which made a large chunk of western Washington available for non-Native settlement.
And yet, “there’s zero mention” in the school’s curriculum of the indigenous history of the region, Remle said. According to the school’s course catalog, a course in U.S. history gives “special attention … to the impact of western expansion on Native American cultures and patterns of migration in the late 1800s.” A History of the Americas course “investigates major themes in portions of the history of North America, the Caribbean, and South America such as independence movements, leadership, and domestic policy in the first year.” A World History course begins with a look “at the global convergence that begins around 1450 and is symbolized by the journey of Christopher Columbus.”
For more than a century, Native Americans have attended schools where the common curriculum repeats “myriad myths and historical lies that have been used through the ages to dehumanize Indians, justifying the theft of our lands, the attempted destruction of our nations and the genocide against our people,” as stated in a 1991 American Indian Movement position statement about Columbus Day. Such teachings have done little to close the achievement gap among Native American students, eliminate stereotypes, and build multicultural awareness.
On the other hand, Remle has seen positive results from the accurate presentation of indigenous history and cultures—cultures that are thriving.
In the district where he works, which is attended by students from the Tulalip Tribes, the on-time graduation rate for Native American students 10 years ago was 35 percent. Since the Marysville School District chose to teach curriculum developed as part of House Bill 1495, that rate is now in the upper 80s and 90s, Remle said.
Another area school is seeing similar success. Chief Kitsap Academy, which is operated by the Suquamish Tribe under a government-to-government agreement with the North Kitsap School District, was one of four district schools or programs—out of 15—to meet math and reading achievement levels required by the No Child Left Behind Act.
And from 1993-96, all students at Seattle’s American Indian Heritage Early College High School graduated and went on to college. Enrollment declined in the ensuing years after the school district merged it with another program, funding was reduced and the district made plans to demolish the school and build a new middle school campus in its place. Plans to demolish the school were rolled back after the city declared it a historical landmark. Advocates are now working on revitalizing the Indian Heritage School program.
View the City of Seattle’s resolution on the city’swebsite.

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