Seattle celebrated Indigenous People’s Day for the first time last Monday, the 12th. Last October, Seattle City Council unanimously voted to officially change the name of the second Monday in October.This was a long-overdue win for the native activists that have been fighting to abolish Columbus Day for decades due to its glorification of a man renowned for enslaving, oppressing, and murdering entire populations of Native Americans. Seattle was the second U.S. city to make this change, after Minneapolis. At least nine other cities have since embraced Indigenous People’s Day, including Olympia, Portland, Albuquerque, and St. Paul, Minnesota. Next to consider the change is Oklahoma city, whose local leaders will be voting later this week on the issue.

City council member Kshama Sawant had a large part of getting the new name legitimized. “Decades, just decades after Columbus’ arrival, through disease, war, conquest and forced labor, the indigenous population had been reduced by as much as 90%,” described Sawant in a victory speech last year following the decision. “This city should not honor a man who played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known.” The new name received some pushback from Italian-Americans who saw it as an offense to Italians and their historical figures. In her speech, Sawant praised Italian-American activists who have participated in struggles with past social issues, saying “These are the real Italian American heroes that we should be celebrating – not Columbus.”

The festivities began last Monday with a celebratory march at 10 A.M., where people were encouraged to bring their drums and celebrate the historical first Indigenous People’s Day for Seattle. At 11:30, keynote speaker Winona LaDuke spoke at city hall. LaDuke is a Native American activist, economist, environmentalist, and author of six books. The day’s activities ended with a celebratory dinner at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center from 5:00 to 9:00.

The events of Monday however, were not restricted to the Indigenous People’s Day celebrations. City council, with the help of Sawant, passed a resolution the same day to recognize the past and present pain that the city of Seattle has inflicted upon the local native community through the United States’ American Indian Boarding School Policy.

Larry Karlovitch, teacher of Native American Literature at Roosevelt believes that the rest of the U.S. should follow Seattle and its fellow Indigenous People’s Day celebrating cities and make the change. “I don’t think [Columbus Day] should be celebrated,” declared Karlovitch, describing Columbus as “Someone who brought about the destruction of great civilisations.” While the fight to abolish Columbus Day on a national scale continues, Sawant congratulated Seattle on its progressive victory. “This resolution is about more than just a name change. It is about educating ourselves and our children, about taking a stand against racism and discrimination.”

Featured Photo: The Burke Museum’s replica of a Tsimshian memorial pole that once stood in the Nisga’a village of Gitlakhdamks in northern British Columbia. Photo by Ryan Henrie

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