When Seattle Declared Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

President Joe Biden last Friday, October 4, issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Congress established Columbus Day as an annual October federal holiday. Biden did a balancing act, in that he also issued a proclamation on Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 11. However, while he praised the role of Italian Americans in U.S. society, he noted the violence and harm Columbus and other explorers of the age brought upon Native Americans.

Although there are now well over 50 cities & states that have adopted “Indigenous Peoples Day” as a holiday celebrated on the date designated for Columbus Day, Seattle and Minneapolis, according to Wikipedia’s timeline, appear to have been the first two major cities to make that change in 2014.

In 2014, then Seattle Mayor Ed Murray invited the Seattle City Council to join him in recognizing our continent’s First Peoples contributions to the United States by instituting an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day.

The City Council did unanimously pass a resolution sponsored by Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant and me. It declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the City of Seattle and encouraged other institutions to recognize the Day.

When the Seattle City Council was adopting an Indigenous Peoples’ Day all hell seemed to break loose for me as the Italian community wanted to know why as a “good” Italian I was “disrespecting” Italian heritage by adding to the second Monday in October an observation of Native American culture. One Florida trucker even called from the road suggesting we all face a firing squad. Seattle’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not, of course, abolish Columbus Day. Columbus Day has been, and remains, a federal holiday.

The following is a condensed reprint of my councilmember newsletter, Urban Politics, that gives a history and rationale for why an Indigenous Peoples’ Day was needed.

Indigenous People and Columbus Day

I have the good fortune of being one of only three people with an Italian surname elected to the Seattle City Council in the last one hundred years. I limit this to surnames because there could have been others of Italian descent. It is…

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