Supporters of changing Columbus Day to an October holiday honoring the contributions of indigenous people held signs, beat drums and dominated the discussion Monday night before the Spokane City Council approved the concept.
“In order to heal, we have to accept what the past was for what it was,” Council President Ben Stuckart said, before backing the creation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Spokane in a 6-1 vote.
Members of the Spokane, Colville, Nez Perce and other tribes said continuing to celebrate the legacy of Columbus, an Italian explorer whose veneration has been questioned because of his involvement in the slave trade and spreading disease, denied the historical significance of their people to the region.
Scyla Dowd, a 13-year-old member of the Inupiat tribe born in Spokane, told the City Council that changing the name of the holiday would be a first step toward affirming her identity, which she said is lost in classrooms teaching about Columbus’ discoveries.
“I would hope the country could celebrate a day when indigineous people, and people that have gone through so much, could have a voice,” Dowd said.
Several council members read from statements at the dais before casting their votes. City Councilwoman Karen Stratton said she felt regret after spending weekends on the Spokane Indian Reservation with her family during her childhood, only to return to her Catholic school in Spokane and hide her heritage. Stratton’s mother, former state legislator Lois Stratton, is a member of the Spokane Tribe.
“I would say nothing, or I went to a movie, because I didn’t want people to think I was Indian,” Stratton said, before voting in favor of renaming the holiday.
At least one supporter was escorted by police from City Hall after clapping and whooping following testimony. Two Spokane police officers stood watch in the back of the room and followed several attendees outside as they left the chambers.
One of those speakers who exited the chambers was John Caputo, a member of the local chapter of the Italian American Club and head of Gonzaga University’s Cagli Project that assisted in the recent naming of the northern Italian city as one of Spokane’s sister cities. He said it was unfortunate the discussion was pitting those of Italian descent against tribal members.
“There’s not a winning side in this,” Caputo said, leaving City Hall about a half-hour before the vote. “It seems like there’s no way to stop the tide.”
Caputo was one of a handful who spoke against the name change Monday night, arguing the holiday honored Italian heritage, a group that also has been persecuted in American history.
City Councilman Mike Fagan, who cast the lone vote against renaming Columbus Day, urged supporters to recognize Columbus’ contributions to world exploration.
“One word I haven’t heard is forgiveness,” Fagan said before voting. “I haven’t heard that one time tonight.”
Spokane becomes one of several cities to rename Columbus Day to honor native tribes instead, including Seattle, Minneapolis and Boulder, Colorado, which passed a similar resolution earlier this month.
City parking meters are free on Columbus Day, but the day is not a holiday for city employees.