A Detroit city councilwoman is proposing that city leaders replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day and remove the Christopher Columbus bust downtown.
Raquel Castañeda-López said the resolution she plans to introduce at Tuesday’s City Council meeting would honor Detroit’s Native American community, Michigan’s 12 federally recognized tribes, and indigenous people who traveled from across the Americas to live and work in Detroit.
The initiative comes as a movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has picked up steam in some parts of the U.S. In August, Los Angeles became the biggest city yet to decide to stop honoring the Italian explorer and instead recognize victims of colonialism.
Austin, Texas, followed suit Thursday. Other cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Denver have previously booted Columbus in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.
“I am excited for the opportunity to honor and recognize my indigenous ancestors and to shed light on the history of our city and country that is often forgotten,” Castañeda-López said. “This resolution reflects our commitment to being a welcoming city to all.”
The resolution urges Mayor Mike Duggan to ensure that all public city offices refer to the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. It encourages schools operating in the city to join in the celebration.
Additionally, the resolution supports the removal of the Christopher Columbus bust in downtown Detroit, Castañeda-López said. It calls for the installation of a tribute to an indigenous figure in its place.
Castañeda-López said the resolution has been in the works for about two years. She has worked with members of native communities and local experts in crafting it, she said.
“Detroit and Michigan as a state have a very strong native history that is overlooked because we don’t often learn about it in our history books,” she said.
In a news release, Dr. Sandra Gonzales, assistant professor of bilingual education of Wayne State University, supported the effort.
“Recognizing the massacres Columbus unleashed on Indigenous people throughout the Americas and shifting from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a way to not only honor the survival and resilience of Detroit’s diverse Indigenous communities today, but to also bring healing,” she said.
In 2015, officials in Traverse City approved marking Indigenous Peoples Day on the same date as the federal Columbus Day holiday.
As more U.S. cities consider whether to scrap Columbus Day, the gesture to recognize indigenous people rather than the man who opened the Americas to European domination also has prompted howls of outrage from some Italian-Americans, who say eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too.
“We had a very difficult time in this country for well over a hundred years,” said Basil Russo, president of the Order Italian Sons and Daughters of America. “Columbus Day is a day that we’ve chosen to celebrate who we are. And we’re entitled to do that just as they are entitled to celebrate who they are.”
It’s not about taking anything away from Italian-Americans, said Cliff Matias, cultural director of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council, which hosted a Re-Thinking Columbus Day event Sunday and Monday in New York.
“The conversation is Columbus,” he said. “If they’re going to celebrate Columbus, we need to celebrate the fact that we survived Columbus.”
The debate over Columbus’ historical legacy is an old one, but it became emotionally charged after a similar debate in the South over monuments to Confederate generals flared into deadly violence in August at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Indigenous Peoples Day began to gel as an idea before the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas.
South Dakota began celebrating Native American Day on the second Monday of October in 1990. Berkeley, California, got rid of Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992.
Many places that have adopted Indigenous Peoples Day since then, including Alaska, have sizable Native American populations.
A few cities have compromised. Salt Lake City officials declared they would keep Columbus Day but celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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