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This past Monday Oct. 12 was Indigenous Peoples Day — a holiday celebrating and honoring Native peoples while acknowledging the legacy of settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing that’s decimated Native populations.
The second Monday of October — known as Columbus Day in some states, including Illinois — is celebrated as Indigenous Peoples Day in 14 states, and around 130 cities around the country, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted earlier this year to officially stop celebrating Columbus Day, in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day, but the city of Chicago hasn’t.
An ordinance sponsored by 12 aldermen — including 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden — and the American Indian Center (AIC) hasn’t made any progress since it was introduced a little over a year ago. The ordinance, if adopted, would make Indigenous Peoples Day a Chicago holiday.
In a Feb. 28 interview, Lightfoot said she wasn’t planning to eliminate Columbus Day at the city level, Block Club Chicago reported. A few months later in July, as Black Lives Matter protests grew in the city, Lightfoot chose to protect a Columbus statue in Grant Park — only to temporarily remove it later as a matter of public safety.
Why is Lightfoot so set on protecting Columbus?
Lightfoot’s been hesitant to make any change and rejected calls to take down the statue this summer, opting for a different approach where they’re used as “teaching tools”, WTTW reported.
According to the AIC website, Chicago has almost 65,000 Native Americans and is “the third largest urban Native American population in the country with over one hundred tribal nations represented.”
The city itself is built on stolen and conquered land from the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi Nations — among others. Chicago — the name — comes from the Miami-Illinois word for a wild onion that grew on the land prior to colonization.
Obviously, tearing down a statue and renaming a holiday does nothing to remedy the history of violence and genocide. But doing so marks the beginning of change.
I remember in elementary school learning about Columbus and glossing over the torture, slavery and genocide that ensued with the colonization of the Americas. I even remember having a day off for Columbus Day from school. A lot of people frame the argument around renaming as editing or erasing history, but that’s simply not true.
Past generations of non-Native American people venerated Columbus because they were taught an idealized and heavily edited version of history. A history where he “discovered” America. A history where he brought “civilization” to the native peoples.
Changing the perspective around Columbus and recognizing his role in the destruction of Native Americans across the Western hemisphere can’t be called erasing history if we were learning a false history all along.
Statues, roads and holidays named after Columbus only perpetuate the false narrative of “discovery” at the expense of the people already here. It’s time for Lightfoot to acknowledge that.