The Seattle City Council voted 7-0 on Tuesday to solidify Indigenous Peoples Day and Juneteenth as city holidays beginning this year, approving several actions formalizing council efforts that started in December.
Tuesday’s bill expanded recent efforts to establish Indigenous Peoples Day as a legal holiday for more city employees and as a parking holiday. It also authorized memorandums of understanding with multiple labor unions recognizing both holidays.
“Although the city has already established Indigenous Peoples Day as a day of observance and legal holiday for city employees represented by the Coalition [of City Unions], legislation is required to expand this holiday to unrepresented city employees and establish a parking holiday,” said Council President Debora Juarez, who sponsored the legislation and is the first Indigenous president of the council.
In the 1970s, The International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas began to advocate for a celebration of Native Americans on what was then — and is still in some areas — celebrated as Columbus Day. Since then, Indigenous Peoples Day has been observed on the second Monday of October.
In 2014, the council passed a resolution — co-sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant and now-Mayor Bruce Harrell “encouraging other institutions to recognize the Day; and reaffirming the city’s commitment to promote the well-being and growth of Seattle’s American Indian and Indigenous community.” The action, however, did not establish a holiday. In 2021, President Joe Biden was the first U.S. president to recognize the holiday federally.
In December 2021, the council adopted an ordinance establishing Juneteenth as a legal holiday for unrepresented city employees and a parking holiday for the public. In a separate ordinance, the council authorized a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Coalition of City Unions, making both Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day legal holidays for represented city employees.
Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas, on June 19, 1865, two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. June 19 has since been celebrated in Black communities as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day and Black Independence Day, and most commonly Juneteenth. Governments have only begun to formally recognize the holiday in recent years, with both Washington state establishing a statewide holiday and Biden establishing a federal holiday in 2021.
“I think it’s important that our country acknowledges slavery this holiday,” Councilmember Tammy Morales, who sponsored the original Juneteenth legislation said in December. “As we recognize it as a city, it also allows us to recognize the legacy of trauma for Black Americans, and to demonstrate an understanding of the need to actively pursue an anti-racist society.”
With Tuesday’s vote, council central staff says about 90% of city employees have both days as paid holidays. A staff spokesperson could not share details on the employees not included, noting that any potentially ongoing labor negotiations are confidential.
Several city labor organizations have agreements adopting the holidays for members, including the Seattle Police Officers Guild, IBEW 77 and Fire Chiefs Local 2898 who were added through Tuesday’s vote.