Seattle School Board Votes to Observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The Seattle School Board, in a unanimous vote, called for public schools to observe “Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October, which is the same day that is observed as Columbus Day as a federal holiday.

KCPQ-TV reported that a part of the resolution stated that the board “recognizes the fact that Seattle is built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the City would not have been possible.”  Additionally, the resolution said the board “has a responsibility to oppose the systematic racism towards Indigenous people in the United States, which perpetuates high rates of poverty and income inequality, exacerbating disproportionate health, education and social crises.”  It also stresses that district staff “include the teaching of the history, culture and government of the indigenous peoples of our state.”

Some Italian Americans in Seattle are opposed to using Columbus Day as the Indigenous Peoples’ Day, saying the federal holiday is a symbol of pride in their heritage.

Other areas which have created “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” include Minneapolis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, California, and South Dakota which changed Columbus Day to  Native Americans’ Day. Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon do not celebrate Columbus Day, says Joel Connelly writing for Seattle PI.  City council-member Bruce Harell says he understands the concerns of the Italian American sector, but makes no excuses for the legislation which he co-sponsored  He believes the city will not have successful social programs until “we fully recognize the evils of our past“.

Phuong Le of the Associated Press quotes a tribal member:

“This action will allow us to bring into current present day our valuable and rich history, and it’s there for future generations to learn,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation on the Olympic Peninsula. She is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

Nobody discovered Seattle, Washington,” she said to a round of applause.

Ethel Branch grew up in the Navajo Nation, which had its own government, flag, and language. She attended school off her reservation, reports Paige Cornwell, writing for The Seattle Times.  She could not understand how her people’s contribution to the history of our country could be so underrepresented in her textbooks. Now a Seattle lawyer and co-chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, she has encouraged the Seattle City Council to approve a resolution to designate “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. Washington is one of the states that does not recognize Columbus Day as a legal holiday, but it is still federally recognized by federal workers getting a day off and no mail being delivered.

In 1977, the idea was proposed by a Native American delegation to the United Nations and in 2011 the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which represented 59 tribes passed a resolution:

“A true and accurate account of the residence and occupation of the Americas by Indigenous people since time immemorial, and long before Christopher Columbus sailed, is necessary to set the historical record straight and to respect the culture, language and traditional life ways of our Indigenous ancestors,” the resolution stated.

Italian opponents to the resolution, such as the Order Sons of Italy, say that Columbus is a symbol of the era of explorers and is someone of whom Italian Americans can be proud. For many Native Americans he is a symbol of colonialism. Many historians say that he is a complicated person, but not a hero.

Eileen Shim of Mic. writes in praise of Seattle School Board’s move to ” address America’s sordid history with colonization”.

Or as cartoonist Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal points out, “And good ol’ Christopher Columbus, sex slaver, mass murderer and champion of sociopathic imperialism, has his own federal holiday. This is an honor shared by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. I repeat, the father of the transatlantic slave trade is honored on the same level as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.”

10 9, 2014
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