Goodbye, Columbus: 2nd Monday in October now Indigenous Peoples Day

By Brian Soergel | Sep 28, 2017

Christopher Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but his well-versed voyage of discovery aboard the Santa Maria is now, at least for some in Edmonds, also one to forget.

A funny thing happened last week when City Council members considered a resolution to have the second Monday in October continue to be recognized as Columbus Day, but also to add the designation of Indigenous Peoples Day.

All indications pointed to that adoption. It was, after all, one brought to the table by the city’s Diversity Commission to recognize that the often-homespun retelling of the European colonization of North America (although Columbus himself never set foot in North America) also led to slavery, disease and death.

But Councilmember Mike Nelson offered an amendment: How about simply doing away with noting Columbus Day locally? He said the city could still acknowledge the federal holiday Columbus Day as recognized by the state, but Edmonds would specifically recognize just Indigenous Peoples Day.

Columbus Day, established by President Roosevelt in 1937, is not an Edmonds city holiday, anyway. Employees do not get the day off, like those in banks do.

Councilmembers voted 5-2 to support Nelson’s amendment, with Dave Teitzel and Kristiana Johnson voting no.

“When the Diversity Commission submitted their draft resolution before City Council, the question I saw them trying to answer was how to balance the events that led to European colonization, which also caused the annihilation of indigenous peoples,” Nelson said this week.

After researching similar resolutions in other Washington cities, as well as the intent behind Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus himself, he concluded that celebrating colonization does not fit in with recognizing indigenous populations.

Nelson pointed to a section of the proposed resolution that read: “The celebration of Columbus Day represents only a part of the history of this country’s and region’s cultural evolution … an opportunity to reflect on the colonization of North America by Europeans … (which) also led to the suppression, forced assimilation and genocide of Indigenous Peoples and their cultures.”

“The plain language here makes it impossible to gloss over or pretend it was of little consequence to the indigenous peoples who still live in these lands today,” he said. “So what message should we send? Most of us as kids were not taught the horrible things Columbus did or opened the door for. Do we continue to pretend it was not that bad – you conquer, kill, they get your diseases, and to the victor go the spoils? Do we want to memorialize that part of our history because the ends justify the means?

“We cannot choose our history, but we can always choose who we want to celebrate. I am proud Edmonds has the courage to recognize a side of our history that we do not hear enough about and recognize the contributions made by our region’s indigenous peoples’ past and present, the people who were here first.”

Indigenous Coast Salish people, including Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish, Tulalip and other tribes, inhabited the Puget Sound region that encompasses the shorelands and uplands of Snohomish County for thousands of years, using the area to harvest salmon, shellfish and land-based resources.

Ed Dorame, Edmonds Diversity Commission co-chair, said he was initially taken aback by the council’s decision.

“The Diversity Commission approved by consensus the Indigenous Peoples Day resolution to co-exist with Columbus Day. This consensus was unanimous. This was after many discussions and reaching out to the community and city government officials for feedback. It was a very thoughtful process.

“I was surprised by the introduction of Mike Nelson's amendment to only recognize Indigenous People's Day. The outcome was not what the Diversity Commission expected from the City Council, but I am happy that indigenous people will be recognized by the city of Edmonds.”

Said Maria Montalvo, the other co-chair on the Diversity Commission: “I preferred having both days recognized because I feel like it forced the issue to have a conversation, rather than cut off conversation. That said, I am glad recognition of indigenous peoples occurred in our city with such a rich history of the original Americans.”

Montalvo added that she was expressing her personal opinion, and not speaking for the commission.

Councilmember Teitzel offered the following explanation this week for voting against removing the recognition of Columbus Day. Teitzel is the City Council liaison alternate to the Diversity Commission, and was present at a meeting when members raised the topic of honoring those indigenous to North America.

That evening, he said, the commission considered three options for establishing an Indigenous Peoples Day in Edmonds: replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day; establish Indigenous Peoples Day on a day different than Columbus Day; or expand Columbus Day to include Indigenous Peoples Day.

After considerable discussion and public input, Teitzel said the commission decided to develop a draft resolution for council around the third option, with the logic that it would honor people native to the country while recognizing Columbus as an important figure in its history.

“This option also creates the opportunity to reflect on what Columbus' arrival meant to the native population,” Teitzel said. “It is clear Columbus' journey to North America paved the way for a European immigration to America, which brought disease, dislocation and genocide to the native population. Rightfully so, the occasion of his arrival is cause for mourning – not celebration –by indigenous people.

“That fact was considered by the Diversity Commission in determining which of the three options to pursue, and it determined having both days coexist would enable reflection about our past while enhancing the potential for healing, rather than creating potential for continued cultural division.”

Teitzel said he voted against the amendment to strike Columbus Day from the local calendar with those thoughts in mind.

“In this instance, the Diversity Commission thoroughly considered three options and brought forward the recommendation it believed was best. I believe, unless council had a compelling reason to rule contrary to the commission's well-reasoned recommendation, we should respect (the commission’s) judgment.”

Columbus’ legacy a “myth”

There are differing opinions on Edmonds’ resolution, of course.

“Our City Council is so self-righteous in doing away with Columbus Day,” said Thomas W. Copley of Edmonds in a letter to the Beacon.

Others are supportive.

“The Columbus we all learned to admire in school is largely a myth,” Nathaniel Brown of Edmonds wrote on “He had drive and was courageous, certainly – but he enslaved the indigenous populations he found and virtually wiped them out; he was an incompetent administrator whose malpractice horrified the Spanish government, and even the missionaries on the spot were horrified at his rapacity. ...

“The choice is between perpetuating a self-serving myth or recognizing real history. I am someone who will miss the schoolbook Columbus, but I think it is better to verify our references and base our perceptions on real history, no matter how difficult, than to perpetuate a myth that papers over slavery and genocide. Maybe by teaching the truth in our school books we can build a more compassionate and aware future.”

Local activist Carlo Voli of Edmonds told councilmembers last week that “Edmonds is in occupied Snohomish territory – the Snohomish tribe still exists, but is not federally recognized.

“The only thing Columbus represents is mainly white males of European descent who came to America thinking they had the right to take over, stealing the continent and killing millions of indigenous people,” Voli said.

“There are still indigenous people in the area, and the least the city can do is honor and acknowledge the stealing of their land, killing of their people and destruction of their culture.”



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