For nine cities in the United States, today is not Columbus Day. It’s the first Indigenous Peoples Day. These cities include Albuquerque, NM; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; Lawrence, KS; Anadorko, OK; Alpena, MI; and Olympia, Washington. According to USA Today, Minneapolis and Seattle led the way for the change last year. Berkeley, California, has observed Indigenous Peoples Day since 1992.
Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Democrat Bruce Harrell sponsored the resolution to change the day’s name last year. Sawant and Harrell’s resolution stated in part,
“The City of Seattle 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.”
The City Council or Seattle Mayor Ed Murray never bothered to consider how the resolution might offend the city’s Italian community. As Shift reported, the main point of contention was not whether or not the Council would pass the resolution. Rather, the Council debated when they would officially change the holiday’s name.
In September 2014, Murray asked the Council to delay the resolution’s passage so he could engage in an act of pure political theater by signing it on October 13 — since resolutions must be signed within 10 days of their passage. Murray — presumably with nothing better to do — actually took the time to address the Council to explain his reasoning. “The idea was to sign it on the day to make it a bigger ceremony at that point,” Murray said.
Harrell agreed with Murray’s plan for a big show. Pointing out that only one camera—that of KIRO 7—was present to cover the resolution’s passage in September, Harrell admitted he wanted “20 cameras to cover the historic event.” He openly stated that “delaying the vote will give the resolution more attention.”
Seattle’s Italian American community didn’t take the name-change well. The community considered it a deliberate slight to, well, Italians. A spokesman for Seattle’s Italian American community said shortly after the vote,
“We think it’s a real slap in the face to all of those of Italian heritage… The problem is that the mayor and the City Council couldn’t arbitrate and find an equitable solution so that Columbus Day, which is essentially Italian Heritage Day, wasn’t thrown under the bus.”
Speaking before the Council prior to the vote, Italian American Frank Collucio said that indigenous people “deserve a day.” However, “by the resolution you say to all Italian Americans that the City of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your legacy worthy of recognition.”
Collucio’s statement made no impression on members, shortly after the council voted to change the name to Indigenous Peoples Day.
Notably, the state Legislature already passed a bill creating a day for indigenous people. During the 2014 legislative session, the Legislature recognized the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day.
Seattle celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day at City Hall with an event earlier today.