Michigan bill aims to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day

Oct 14, 2019 at 11:43 am
click to enlarge Protesters draped a black cloth over the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Detroit in 2017. - By Steve Neavling
By Steve Neavling
Protesters draped a black cloth over the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Detroit in 2017.

Michigan is among an increasing number of states trying to do away with Columbus Day in support of Native Americans.

The second Monday in October has traditionally been a federal holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus. But a growing number of Americans believe the holiday celebrates genocide and ignores the people who were here before Columbus arrived.

State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, introduced a bill last week to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

At least seven states and Washington D.C. have already made the switch.

“Michigan, at the heart of the Great Lakes basin, has a rich and long history, extending long before Europeans first arrived,” Irwin says in a news release. “It is only fitting that we more prominently recognize and celebrate the rich and vibrant, tribal tradition of the indigenous people of Michigan, and of this continent.”

Indigenous Peoples' Day has already been adopted by at least eight cities in Michigan: Ann Arbor, Detroit, Ferndale, Southfield, East Lansing, Alpena, Ypsilanti, and Traverse City.

On Sept. 26, the Detroit City Council adopted a resolution to recognize Detroit’s original name – Waawiyatanong (Waa-wiya-ta-nong) — on Indigenous Peoples' Day. The original Anishinaabe name translates to “where the water goes around.”

At noon on Monday, the city of Detroit will celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day at Spirit Plaza. “This is an important step to restore dignity and honor the history of indigenous communities here,” City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López says in a news release. “Today’s acknowledgement is critical for healing centuries of violence stemming from colonialism, past, present, and future, which must be included as the city moves forward.”

The idea behind today’s celebration in Detroit is to raise awareness about the Anishanaabe.

“Native people fight erasure and American historical amnesia. While many don’t know the native people of this land, fewer know the Anishinaabe name for this land,” Antonio Cosme, an education coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, says in a news release. “In our history classes, we know the names of empires and city-states along the Mediterranean 10,000 years ago, but not the name of these lands some 300 years ago. This initiative won’t rewrite textbooks or decolonize land but slowly, inch by inch we can retake the public space that is our collective consciousness.”

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.