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Seattle Considers Renaming Columbus Day As Indigenous Peoples' Day

Brian Glanz
A bust of Seattle's namesake chief has been in Pioneer Square since 1909. Should the city do more to recognise its indigenous peoples and leave Columbus Day behind?

Members of Seattle’s City Council and Mayor Ed Murray say they’re in favor of a resolution to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. But the council postponed a vote on the measure. 

Members of several Native American tribes and their supporters rallied outside City Hall, then filled  council chambers to testify. They said Columbus brought genocide and slavery to the Americas and celebrations of him as a discoverer need to stop.

Several introduced themselves in their indigenous languages and dressed in traditional clothing. They reminded council members that Seattle is named after a Native American chief and uses his image as its logo.  And many said they suffered from cultural misconceptions and unflattering stereotypes.

“For too many years, we have languished in the history books as the savages, as the people who are in the way,” said Rene Roman Nose, who is the Health & Social Services Director at the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe.

“We aren’t in the way. We opened our hearts, our homes and our lands to strangers.  We’ve fed your ancestors, we’ve clothed them, we’ve welcomed them,” she said.

The resolution also urges Seattle Public Schools to change its curriculum to better reflect indigenous history and culture. 

Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the city’s Public Safety, Human Rights and Technology Committee and co-sponsored the measure with KshamaSawant, left little doubt that it would pass. No one in council chambers Tuesday spoke out against it. But Harrell said the city had received some ignorant emails from people opposed to it, so he wanted to postpone the vote and take more time to educate the public. 

Others said Mayor Murray wants to be able to sign the resolution on Columbus Day and have a big celebration. The council unanimously approved the motion to postpone a vote for at least two weeks.

"So this is going to be a great day for the city. And at the risk of being a little colloquial, I want to milk this out a little bit,” Harrell said.

Columbus Day falls on the second Monday in October. It’s been a federal holiday since 1937, but four states and several cities do not recognize it.

South Dakota replaced Columbus Day with Native American Day in 1990. Minneapolis is the latest to make the change. It unanimously adopted an Indigenous Peoples’ Day in April.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.

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