Seattle City Hall reverberated Tuesday with anticipatory drum rolls as tribal activists flexed their musical muscles ahead of an expected City Council vote.
But the vote on the declaration of an official Indigenous Peoples’ Day never came, and the activists carrying Native American drums were told their celebration would have to wait.
The council decided at a meeting Tuesday to send the proposal to a committee for further discussion after Mayor Ed Murray requested the vote be rescheduled.
Murray says he fully supports the city’s designating the second Monday each October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to honor the people here before Christopher Columbus arrived.
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But the mayor asked the council to consider delaying the vote so he could sign the declaration closer to the day, which this year will be Oct. 13, his office said.
The council agreed to hold off, and under normal circumstances the change might have gone unnoticed.
Instead, it made for an awkward moment.
Dozens of Native American activists had gathered outside City Hall for songs and speeches and then packed the council chambers because they had been told there would be a vote.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who introduced the legislation along with Councilmember Kshama Sawant, assured a disappointed crowd that delaying the vote would allow the city to educate Seattle residents about the need for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“We haven’t had any public discussion about this,” Harrell said. He also told the activists a delay would give the council time to drum up media coverage.
“You see one camera here,” Harrell said. “I want 20 cameras here. I want the whole city to understand why we’re doing this.”
The declaration would mean Seattle’s marking Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same date as Columbus Day, which has been a federal holiday since 1937.
It would not replace the day that recognizes Columbus, but it would set Seattle apart as a forward-looking city, activists said.
The Italian-born seafarer is credited as the first European to reach the Americas during the Age of Exploration, and generations of schoolchildren have learned about his voyages.
But some advocates of the resolution said Columbus and Europeans who followed him were responsible for decimating the indigenous population of the Americas by way of murder, enslavement and disease.
“He encountered people but he didn’t recognize them,” said Ethel Branch of the Navajo Nation, a lawyer and co-chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.
“We’ve come a long way since 1492,” Branch added, urging the council to approve the declaration.
Sawant questioned the delay before joining her colleagues in a unanimous decision to table the declaration. “It’s not clear to me why this is being postponed,” she said. “It is unconscionable that we celebrate Columbus as a hero. … We should honor those present by taking a vote here today.”
No council members spoke against the resolution. But after the meeting, Sawant said she would be on the lookout for any adverse changes to the legislation in the interim.
Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org.