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Seattle Votes To Celebrate Indigenous People On Columbus Day

Brian Glanz
A bust of Seattle's namesake chief has been in Pioneer Square since 1909.

Seattle’s City Council has declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day. They voted unanimously in favor of the resolution to replace city celebrations of Columbus Day and encourage other institutions to do the same.  

Mel Sheldon, former chairman of the Tulalip Tribe, was among many who testified in favor of the measure before the vote. To rounds of drumming and warm applause, he said thanks in his indigenous language, Coast Salish. 

"This initiative makes me proud. It makes all Indian people proud, because you're thinking about the future generations — the children, the little ones, who are not born yet," Sheldon said.

The resolution includes a provision directing Seattle Public Schools to celebrate indigenous peoples in their curriculum. The district approved language to that effect last week.

Originally proposed to the United Nations in 1977, the idea first came before the Seattle City Council three years ago after 59 northwest tribes passed a similar resolution. Minneapolis became the latest city to make the move in April.

Tribes organized a big demonstration at last month's council meeting. Council members ended up postponing the vote in hopes of taking more time to educate the public about the issue.

In addition to testimony in favor of the resolution, some members of the Italian American community said it was an offensive blow to their heritage, which has deep roots in Seattle. Others said if you stop celebrating Columbus, there’s no end to other names that should be removed from public life.  

But the resolution’s sponsor, Council member Bruce Harrell, said the measure is not about ranking oppression, but about celebrating the contributions of Seattle’s first inhabitants.

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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