Activists, politicians advocate for county to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day


Photo courtesy The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, 3001 Central St. Activists and politicians push for a resolution to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Cook County Board of Commissioners is set to hold a hearing in one week.

Jack Austin, Reporter

Local community leaders joined to support a Cook County resolution to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in a virtual town hall Monday, just a week before a public hearing on the issue.

If the resolution is passed, Cook County will join 14 states and more than 130 cities across the nation in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Evanston made the switch in 2016, becoming the first Illinois city to do so. But a county-level resolution has not yet been realized.

Derrick David, of Menominee and Santo Domingo Pueblo descent, said he supported the shift to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in part because of his experiences in Chicago Public Schools. Now a freshman at Lane Tech High School, David said Columbus was a celebrated figure across the district. He said he wants better for his cousins, who are five and one years old.

“Growing up in Chicago Public Schools, it was always a conflict within myself to sing the old nursery rhyme ‘1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,’” David, an emcee for the event, said. “I didn’t want to celebrate that man.”

With over 65,000 American Indians living in the Chicago metropolitan area, the city’s urban Indigenous population is the third-largest in the United States, according to the American Library Association.

Brandon Johnson, a 1st District Cook County board commissioner, is the primary sponsor of the resolution. Several members of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, including the president, are in support of the resolution.

“It is well past time that we recognize as a county the failures and the ills of the real history of this country,” Johnson said. “As long as we are using tax dollars to give people the day off to honor, to pay homage to someone like Christopher Columbus, that’s a failure of our political system.”

Chicago Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd), a Puerto Rican woman of Taino and African descent, said she is proud to support the resolution, which her district largely supports.

“This is a matter of racial equity. We should not be honoring Columbus in this land,” she said. “I am here to do everything to get it passed.”

In support of the resolution, Brant Rosen, a rabbi for the non-Zionist Tzedek Chicago, said they are exploring how to be a “decolonizing congregation” by standing in solidarity with those disenfranchised and dispossessed by colonialism. According to the Torah, Rosen said the land belongs to God, so nobody owns it.

Several leaders also spoke about how education around Columbus must be changed.University of Illinois at Chicago Professor and activist David Stovall said accurate depictions of history can be a pathway to empowerment.

“When Columbus said the Taino people would make the greatest of slaves, we are living in a reckoning of that,” Stovall said. “Columbus (was) not a discoverer but a colonizer. That (false) history is still taught to young people in classes today. We need Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Syda Taylor, the executive director of Organic Oneness, a social justice nonprofit that works with communities of color, similarly said growing up she learned “distorted truths.”

“A lot of that relearning was about Christopher Columbus. I learned about the raping and the killing of young girls. It made me question what we stand for as a nation.” Taylor said. “We need to stand for truth and justice if we want to be healed.”

The Cook County Board of Commissioners will vote on the resolution, as well as another which would require land acknowledgements to be read at every Cook County board meeting, in late June after a public hearing on May 24.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @JackAustin10

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