Detroit — Although it’s not an official city holiday, one Detroit council member is hoping to create an Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day.
Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez on Tuesday intends to introduce a resolution, in partnership with a coalition of Detroit’s indigenous leaders, to establish the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Columbus Day, which recognizes how Italian Christopher Columbus brought the Americas to the attention of Europe in the 1490s, is a federal holiday.
The resolution seeks Mayor Mike Duggan’s support and the ultimate removal of the Christopher Columbus bust in downtown Detroit in favor of monument that would pay tribute to an indigenous figure.
The request comes as cities across the country debate the fate of controversial statues in public places and in the wake of an August protest of the city’s Columbus statute.
But Castaneda-Lopez said Monday that she’s been working on the move for over two years. For her, it’s about recognizing native ancestors and shedding light on history that’s often “overlooked by mainstream society.”
“This isn’t something new for me. It’s something that’s part of my professional and personal life: to highlight and celebrate indigenous people here,” she told The News. “There are histories that aren’t being told.”
The city, she said, is home to the largest concentration of Native Americans in Michigan. The declaration would honor the state’s 12 federally recognized tribes, historic tribes and indigenous people who live and work in the city.
“Recognizing the massacres Columbus unleashed on Indigenous people throughout the Americas and shifting from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a way to not only honor the survival and resilience of Detroit’s diverse Indigenous communities today, but to also bring healing,” Dr. Sandra Gonzales, an assistant professor of bilingual education at Wayne State University, said in a statement.
Added Essi Hollier Jackson of the Muskogee Creek tribe: “To truly heal we need to acknowledge the harm that was done and heal by celebrating the resilience of Native Americans and African Americans.”
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel commended Castaneda-Lopez for her effort, saying it should go beyond local municipalities and be done at the state or federal levels. The county is home to a large Italian-American community and the Italian American Chamber of Commerce of Michigan.
“I couldn’t agree more there needs to be a respectful recognition that this land once upon a did time belong to someone else,” said Hackel, noting he has close friends who are Native Americans and it’s been a “sore spot.”
“I’m glad people are talking about it. We should pay some type of tribute to the folks that were part of this country’s rich heritage.”
Castaneda-Lopez said she’s hoping to gain council’s support on Tuesday. In the future, she hopes the city’s Columbus monument will be removed and replaced to honor a prominent figure in the native community.
Longer term, she will push for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to become an official paid city holiday.
The resolution will also encourage all Detroit Public Schools, charter schools and other child care/educational facilities operating in the city to add more of the history of indigenous people into the curriculum, Castaneda-Lopez said.
If council approves the resolution, Detroit would join a growing number of cities adopting such a policy including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“Following the footsteps of many other cities, this decision would show the City of Detroit’s commitment to the indigenous people that live in and visit the City,” said Ashley Tuomi, CEO of American Indian Health and Family Services.