Chicago activists push to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day


Photo by Jack Austin/Daily Senior Staffer

William Buchholtz Allison, who is Algonquin, plays the woodland flute. Allison said he considers it an honor to play at native events throughout the Great Lakes region like Monday’s rally for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Chicago and Illinois.

Jack Austin, Senior Staffer

Around 60 community members, activists and volunteers convened at Pottawattomie Park in Rogers Park on Monday to voice support for the renaming of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Chicago and Illinois. 

Throughout the event and press conference, politicians and activists criticized Columbus Day as a holiday that celebrates colonialism, genocide and near erasure of Indigenous people. 

“We are here for healing, recognition, and acknowledgment. Why can’t we move forward?” Chicago Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said at the event. “This is old news. I hope people have some courage to do what’s right.”

Hadden told The Daily her constituents have shown significant support for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and she understands how Columbus Day could seem traumatic and offensive, like a “slap to the face” to Indigenous communities. 

She added that the change should not be controversial. 

While the concept of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not new — the day was first proposed by a United Nations conference on discrimination against Indigenous peoples in 1977 –- the movement has only recently garnered traction in cities throughout the country. 

In 2016, Evanston joined a growing number of municipalities across the nation pledging to rename the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 17 states and the District of Columbia recognize the holiday –– though Chicago currently does not recognize it. 

Progress has been slow because many states have small Indigenous populations, according to Les Begay, a member of the Diné Nation and co-founder of Indigenous Peoples’ Day Coalition of Illinois. Begay said switching the holiday in Illinois and elsewhere will rely on the help of non-Indigenous people joining forces with Indigenous coalitions. 

Indigenous Peoples’ Day Coalition of Illinois, which hosted a similar event last year, is working with 15 Native-led organizations within Chicago to achieve recognition for Indigenous People’s Day at the Cook County level, Begay said. He said the coalition, which has 195 organizations signed on, only has the votes of five out of 17 board members. Three-fifths of the Cook County Board of Commissioners must vote in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in order for it to be recognized. 

However, some opponents to the change say Columbus Day represents Italian heritage in the U.S. 

Italian-American state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) said during the press conference that, though he is a proud Italian, he feels no connection with Columbus and believes communities should uplift Italian sports or war heroes instead. 

“We can choose a better hero to honor Columbus, who never set foot on North America. I don’t connect with him,” Guzzardi said. 

President Joe Biden recently reiterated his support for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Biden is the first president to recognize the holiday. Still, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not a federal holiday, while Columbus Day is recognized as such. 

Part of Monday’s event included music and celebration. William Buchholtz Allison, who is Algonquin, played a woodland flute. Allison performs at Indigenous gatherings across the Great Lakes region, and he said he always considers it an honor. 

“As an Indigenous person, I feel joy when I’m playing and I’m told I bring joy to other people. They tell us if you have a gift, share it otherwise the creator will take it back,” Allison said. “It’s to support our community, the Indigenous community around the country around the world but especially in North America.” 

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