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Seattle to Celebrate Indigenous People's Day on Columbus Day

First Posted: Oct 11, 2014 07:07 PM EDT

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is expected to sign it into law on Monday a resolution that "honors the contributions and culture of Native Americans and the indigenous community in Seattle" and celebrating Indigenous People's Day on the federal holiday Columbus Day.

Seattle City Council introduced the resolution that passed unanimously earlier this week to recognize the day going forward on the second Monday in October.

Seattle council member Bruce Harrell, cosponsor of the resolution, told the Guardian the city could be successful in its social programs and outreach efforts if it didn't recognize the past. 

Columbus Day commemorated the arrival of the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in the Americas on October 12, 1942, --  expect he never did land on mainland America. Columbus' expedition was sponsored by the Spanish Monarchy.

Despite being a federal holiday, Columbus Day is a raw issue for indigenous people because of the violence he and his men showed toward residents when exploring South America. Tribal members and their supporters said the resolution recognizes the long and rich legacy of the people who have inhabited the region for millennia.

"This action will allow us to bring into current present day our valuable and rich history, and it's there for future generations to learn," Fawn Sharp, the president to the Quinault Indian Nation on the Olympic Peninsula, said.

Not everyone is Seattle is pleased with the change. A number of Italian-Americans have objected to the plan and say it denigrates their heritage. 

"We don't argue with the idea of Indigenous Peoples' Day. We do have a big problem if it is coming at the expense of what essentially is Italian Heritage Day," said Ralph Fascitelli, an Italian-American who lives in Seattle. "This is a big insult to those of us of Italian heritage. We feel disrespected."

Enshrining Columbus Day as a legal holiday began through the lobbying efforts of Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian in Denver, and subsequent lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, made it a national holiday in 1934.

Other U.S. cities have recently recognized Indigenous People's Day -- Minneapolis and South Dakota.

"It's been a long time coming," Clyde Bellecourt, a Minneapolis civil rights organizer, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "For me, it's been almost 50 years that we've been talking about this pirate [Columbus]."

There are also national efforts afoot to change the national holiday to Indigenous Peoples' Day. 

In an open letter to the President Barack Obama, scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz wrote, "Columbus Day is a metaphor and painful symbol of that traumatic past, although the United States did not become an independent republic until nearly three centuries after Columbus's first voyage. None of Columbus's voyages touched the continental territory now claimed by the US. Yet, the United States soon affirmed that a 15th century Papal Bull, known as the 'Doctrine of Discovery,' applied to the Indigenous nations of North America. This remains U.S. law in claiming that native nations are 'domestic, dependent nations' with no inherent rights to the land."

And a petition is being circulated to change the federal holiday to Indigenous People's Day at

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz wrote the book "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States," which was recently published by Beacon Press.

Follow Rebecca Myles on Twitter.

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