A city’s effort to change Columbus Day proves ‘divisive’

In Edmonds, the City Council rejected a Diversity Commission recommendation. Columbus is out.

EDMONDS — City Council members say they had no idea how much public debate would be aroused by deciding what to call the second Monday in October.

Traditionally, it’s been called Columbus Day — a federal holiday — first established in 1937.

The city’s Diversity Commission recommended a hybrid they said they hoped would better reflect history — to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on Columbus Day.

The City Council opted to amend the commission’s recommendation last week, approving a resolution simply calling it Indigenous Peoples Day.

“I don’t think people realized it would get as much attention as it has,” said City Councilman Dave Teitzel.

It’s similar to the recent controversies over whether to take down the statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate Civil War military leaders, he said.

“It’s recognizing a person or event in history that had a lot of negative connotations, and how should we deal with that?

“Obviously those issues are divisive — very divisive,” he said.

In Washington, Lynnwood, Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Spokane and Yakima have proclaimed the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day.

Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed by a delegation of Native Nations to the United Nations in 1977.

The city resolution says that European colonization of North America led to the “suppression, forced assimilation and genocide of Indigenous Peoples and their cultures.”

The recommendation to change the wording of the resolution to simply designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day was made by Councilman Mike Nelson. Nelson could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Nelson’s proposed amendment was approved on a 5-2 vote with Teitzel and Kristiana Johnson voting against it. The amended resolution was approved unanimously.

Once the amendment passed, the issue was whether you support honoring indigenous people, Teitzel said. “Clearly I do. That’s why I voted to approve.”

Mayor Dave Earling called the decision to modify the wording as suggested by the Diversity Commission “surprising and disappointing.” The commission worked for several months to come to an agreement, he said.

Earling said he felt that by sharing the day in recognition of Columbus and indigenous people, the community would embrace the efforts of the commission.

Councilwoman Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who backed the change in the resolution’s wording, is the council’s representative on the Diversity Commission.

“We still have Columbus Day in Edmonds — it’s a federal holiday. We added Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day,” she said.

She said she thought Nelson suggested the change because he felt the language suggested by the Diversity Commission “wasn’t quite strong enough.”

The issue “sure is getting blown up though, I’ll tell you that,” she said.

Two members of the Diversity Commission had contrasting views on the council’s action.

Diana White, a member of the Edmonds School Board, has served on the city’s Diversity Commission for several years. She is an enrolled member of the Potawatomi Tribe, whose ancestral lands were in Indiana.

White said she was surprised by the council’s action. She said the Diversity Commission had worked hard to reach a compromise that would be broadly supported by the community.

“I feel like sometimes compromise isn’t really popular any more,” she said.

Fellow commission member Anabel Hovig said the wording adopted by the City Council was what she would have liked to have seen the commission approve.

Columbus will always be a part of history, she said.

“It comes down to who do we honor — a colonist who was responsible for genocide or the indigenous people who suffered and were displaced?”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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