Native American activists laughed, wept and sang their way out of Seattle’s City Hall on Monday after watching the City Council unanimously approve a resolution designating the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
“It’s beautiful to see,” said Matt Remle, a Seattle resident of Lakota heritage who wrote the first draft of the resolution, “the people walking out with smiles on their faces. Bringing that good energy and spirit to the people is what this was all about.”
The legislation provoked some opposition because October’s second Monday also is Columbus Day, a federal holiday named for explorer Christopher Columbus and widely marked by the celebration of Italian-American history and culture.
In the council chambers Monday, a half-dozen people held Italian flags to demonstrate their support for Columbus Day.
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Several said they weren’t against an Indigenous Peoples’ Day but felt slighted by the council’s decision to honor Native Americans on the same date as an existing holiday.
“Italian Americans are deeply offended,” said Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America and the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest. “By this resolution you say to all Italian Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.”
But for each Italian American activist at City Hall there were scores of Native American activists, many wearing pieces of traditional garb and some carrying drums.
Washington is among the states that don’t recognize Columbus Day as a legal holiday, and Columbus Day is not a Seattle holiday. Indigenous People’s Day won’t be an official Seattle holiday either — just a day to honor indigenous peoples.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant was clear about why activists pushed for the city to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same date as Columbus Day.
The 15th-century explorer “played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known,” Sawant said, referring to the decimation of the Native American population in the decades after Columbus.
“This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination,” she said, suggesting that Italian Americans celebrate Italian American social-justice activists rather than Columbus.
“Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice … allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.”
Councilmember Bruce Harrell encouraged Italian Americans so inclined to continue honoring Columbus, arguing that Indigenous Peoples’ Day will add to the Seattle’s cultural landscape without detracting from the Columbus Day tradition.
“We are not reveling in the pain of our past, but indeed we are rejoicing in the celebration of a triumph, a Native voice that says, ‘We are here. We still matter. We were here hundreds of years before you and we will be here 100 years after you.’
“I make no excuses for this legislation,” Harrell added, drawing applause.
“I believe that if we are going to reach our vibrancy as a city that we will not be successful in our social programs, in our outreach, in our education efforts, until we fully recognize the evils of our past.”
The Seattle School Board voted last week to have public schools observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October, and some other states and cities, such as South Dakota and Minneapolis, have taken similar steps.
“I feel justified,” said Renee Roman Nose, who is a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and who traveled to Seattle from near Darrington for the vote. “We are not in any way wanting to denigrate any other group at all. We are asking for mutual respect and understanding. We hope that this holiday brings that.”
Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or firstname.lastname@example.org