Indigenous Peoples Day has replaced Columbus Day in Grand Forks.
A Monday night vote by the Grand Forks City Council swapped the October holiday named after Columbus for one recognizing the indigenous people who lived here for millennia before the colonizer’s ships ever arrived in the Americas.
After a lengthy and sometimes emotional hearing the week before, the council’s final approval was almost anticlimactic -- council members approved the swap within a broader slate of city business. Mayor Mike Brown announced it to the packed council chambers shortly after the unanimous round of “ayes,” and the room burst into a sustained round of applause.
“We are extremely grateful for tonight’s outcome,” said Courtney Davis Souvannasacd, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who helped organize the crowds that showed up to Monday’s decision and the hearing last week. “We hope to continue moving forward as a community and learning from one another.”
The resolution was approved as is, which means it retained language recognizing Columbus’ “violent and tragic mistreatment” of indigenous peoples and an official acknowledgment that closing the equity gap means government entities and other organizations should change their policies and practices to “better reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples” and acknowledge “the history of actions taken that created that gap.”
The resolution also urges other Grand Forks-area institutions -- including UND and Grand Forks Public Schools -- to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. Lessons about Columbus have a reputation among American Indians for whitewashing his legacy, and Hillary Kempenich, another Turtle Mountain enrollee, said they can “ostracize” indigenous students. She said she hopes the council's decision is an inspiration for the school district.
City Council member Katie Dachtler pushed for the move. She spoke briefly outside city hall, telling a crowd of supporters that she was honored to be a part of the push for the resolution and was “really just a conduit” for it to come forward.
Council members last week, acting as the city’s Committee of the Whole, unanimously voted to forward the resolution replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day to the council proper. At that meeting, a series of public speakers outlined their case for the swap, pointing to the sailor’s history of violence in the Caribbean or characterizing the holiday for indigenous people as an important step forward.
“Official holidays are a symbol of our shared values,” said Andrea Denault, a descendant of the Turtle Mountain band, after Monday’s final vote. “Venerating somebody that we know was a murderer and a pedophile and all these things are not reflective of shared values.”
The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe sent formal letters of support for the measure.
Several other municipalities have either established an Indigenous Peoples Day of their own, no longer recognize Columbus Day, or both.
Not present at the Monday meeting was Council member Sandi Marshall. Bret Weber participated via phone call.
Here is the full text of the resolution the City Council approved on Monday:
"Whereas, The City of Grand Forks works to strengthen the Native American/American Indian/First Nations/Indigenous community by promoting understanding, recognition, and respect for cultures and to enrich the community as a whole and support empathy, integrity, humility, good stewardship of resources, fostering fellowship, and familial cohesion; and
"Whereas, The Grand Forks City Council supports abolishing Columbus Day and replacing said day with Indigenous Peoples Day with the intention of bringing awareness and understanding to the City of Grand Forks' community; and
"Whereas, The City of Grand Forks recognizes that Grand Forks was built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of this city would not have been possible; and
"Whereas, The City of Grand Forks understands that in order to help close the equity gap, government entities, organizations and other public institutions should change their policies and practices to better reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples and uplift our country's Indigenous roots, history, and contributions, as well as truthfully acknowledge the history of actions taken that created the gap;
"Whereas, Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas; and
"Whereas, In 1990, representatives from 120 Indigenous nations at the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance unanimously passed a resolution to transform Columbus Day into an occasion to strengthen the process of continental unity and struggle for liberation, and thereby use the occasion to reveal a more accurate historical record;
"Now therefore, be it resolved, that the City of Grand Forks shall continue its efforts to promote the well-being of the Grand Forks Native American, American Indian, First Nations, and Indigenous community.
"Be it further resolved, that Indigenous Peoples Day shall be an opportunity to celebrate the thriving cultures and positive values of the Indigenous Peoples of our region; and
"Be it further resolved, that we encourage our community to explore and acknowledge Christopher Columbus' violent and tragic mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples; and
"Be it further resolved, that the City of Grand Forks encourages Grand Forks Public Schools, University of North Dakota, other educational institutions, businesses, organizations, and public entities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day; and
"Be it further resolved that the City of Grand Forks' Indigenous Peoples Day shall serve as an occasion to reflect upon the ongoing struggles and positive contributions of Indigenous Peoples of this land, and to celebrate the culture and value that Anishinaabe, Dakota, Lakota, Nakota and all Indigenous Peoples add to our community so as to enhance understanding and promote harmony.
"Therefore, be it finally resolved, by the Grand Forks City Council that the City of Grand Forks shall no longer recognize Columbus Day and shall, henceforth, proclaim the second Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples Day.