Port Angeles OKs Indigenous People’s Day after debate

PORT ANGELES — After a lively debate, the Port Angeles City Council voted last week to recognize Indigenous People’s Day on Columbus Day.

The council voted 5-1 Tuesday — with Cherie Kidd opposed and Jim Moran abstained — to read a Indigenous People’s Day proclamation at its Oct. 2 meeting.

The proclamation recognizes the second Monday of October — which is federally recognized as Columbus Day — as Indigenous People’s Day in the city of Port Angeles to “promote tolerance, understanding and friendship, and to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination stemming from colonization.”

Kidd and Moran said they supported having an Indigenous People’s Day but not on an established holiday.

“It seems logical to me that they would have their own day, not try to wipe out Columbus Day,” Kidd said.

Columbus Day, a federal holiday since 1937, celebrates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492. He did not land upon the North American mainland, according to historians, but his travels led to the exploration and colonization of the Americas.

Mayor Sissi Bruch proposed the proclamation and provided a history of local efforts to rename Columbus Day.

In 2011, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which includes the Lower Elwha Klallam and other North Olympic Peninsula tribes, voted to support changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, Bruch said.

Former City Council member Brad Collins worked with Lower Elwha Klallam tribal officials before he retired last December to identify an appropriate date for Indigenous People’s Day.

“It was expressed to me that it would be great to have Indigenous (People’s) Day celebrated on Columbus Day,” said Bruch, who recently resigned as Lower Elwha senior planner to focus on her duties as mayor.

As of last October, four states, 59 cities and three universities had renamed Columbus Day to honor Native Americans, Bruch said in a memo to the council.

Critics of Columbus Day have argued that Columbus arrived in the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492, mistakenly thinking he was in Asia, and “initiated genocidal actions against people indigenous to the Bahamas,” Bruch said in her memo.

“The so-called discovery of America is something that here in the Pacific Northwest, where a significant part of our population is native relative to the rest of the United States and where so much of the history is raw and within the last couple hundred years and ongoing, it’s important that we recognize this day for what it really means,” Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said at the meeting.

Kidd took umbrage with language in Bruch’s memo that mentions persecution of Catholics.

Bruch’s memo said: “This holiday was a victory for Catholics, whose persecution in this country should not be underestimated.”

“I find this offensive,” Kidd said. ”I don’t care if you’re talking about Catholics or the Jewish population or Lutherans. I’m not here to talk negatively about any of our churches or populations in our community.

“I’m all for Indigenous People’s Day,” Kidd added. ”Let’s set aside a separate day that’s theirs, but not use discriminatory language against other areas of the population.”

Bruch said her memo “was not meant to be offensive.”

“This was just the facts of that back then,” said Bruch, who said she is Catholic. “It was such total discrimination of the Catholics.”

“Then pick another day that isn’t controversial,” Kidd said. “Pick another day that reunites us all. This divides us.”

Council member Mike French said American history is often told as a story of discovery, exploration and freedom.

“It was also a story of conquest,” French said. “That conquest came at the expense of some actual human beings. I think an honest recognition of that is not divisive. It is just factual and accepting and open.”

French said Native Americans have had a history of “being pushed around.”

“Our own government took Native children out of their communities, put them in boarding schools and reeducated them with the expressed purpose of trying to destroy their culture,” French said.

“So being in the place where I am, and the geography of this place and the cultures that surround this place and the history that surrounds this place in Port Angeles, I feel a duty to be inclusive and to be honest about that history.”

Moran suggested finding another day for Indigenous People’s Day that holds special significance for Native Americans.

Being of Irish ancestry, Moran said he relishes St. Patrick’s Day and its “special significance to the Irish.”

“I don’t want their day to be lost in some sort of controversial conflict,” Moran said at the meeting. ”I would like to see a day that’s unique and special to them that we here in our local community can say ‘Hey, guys, it’s your St. Patrick’s Day, if you will, and we want to make that your special day.’”

When asked in a Thursday interview why he abstained rather than voted no, Moran said he was torn by the issue.

“I’m not opposed to Indigenous People’s Day, but on the other hand I do not agree with it being on the second Monday of October,” Moran said.

Lower Elwha Klallam tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles was not immediately available for comment Friday.

Council member Michael Merideth said he would support celebrating Indigenous People’s Day on Columbus Day if all North Olympic Peninsula tribes were in favor of the move.

“I want to make sure that that’s a consensus of all of our local tribes,” Merideth said.

Bruch said that Port Angeles was built on Lower Elwha Klallam territory, and the request to mark a city Indigenous People’s Day on the federal Columbus Day “came from them.”

“This is Elwha,” Bruch said. “This is where the Elwha were. So to me, it seems like if the local tribe where we sit in their ancestral territory is OK with it, I would think that that would suffice.”

The Jamestown S’Klallam, Makah, Quileute and Hoh tribes are each part of the 59-member Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, which supported renaming Columbus Day.

Schromen-Wawrin asked his fellow council members whether they had heard the phase: “Kill the Indian, save the man.”

“That’s offensive,” Kidd replied. “I’ve never heard that.”

Said Schromen-Wawrin: “The fact that you’ve never heard that phrase, Council member Kidd, is why we need to celebrate this on this day, because that was the slogan of the U.S. government in relation to Native peoples.”

Kidd countered that Indigenous People’s Day should be celebrated on a “day that means something to them.”

“I don’t want to re-fight the old wars (that were fought) before we were alive,” Kidd said. ”I don’t want to go back and do that. That’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to partnership, to collaborate, to make sure our community works together moving forward, and not to fight old wars.

“This is not unifying,” Kidd added. “This is divisive.”

French interjected, saying: “With respect, I think that is how privilege works. I can ignore all these things in history that are uncomfortable and my life doesn’t change.

”I can ignore all the things that are inconvenient about how people that look like me acted in history, and I don’t have to think about it on a daily basis.

“But other people have to live with the lasting damage that those actions caused,” French added.

”They have to live with the discrimination that still exists today that came about because of those actions in the past. So I understand the impulse to want to just try to forget about history, but it affects real people.”

The council-approved proclamation recognizes the “systemic racism” towards Native Americans and trumpets the “valuable contributions” that the Klallam people have made to Port Angeles.

“We want to promote tolerance and friendship and combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination,” French said.

”That’s what this proclamation is saying.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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