Detroit will nix Columbus Day for indigenous people

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — City officials have officially canceled Columbus Day.

Instead, Detroit will now celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on the second Monday of October after the City Council unanimously approved a proposal to recognize it. Columbus Day is a federal holiday, but Detroit city workers do not receive it as a paid day off.

Several people spoke out against the proposal, saying Columbus Day should be kept and viewing it as an attack on Italian-Americans. But council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who proposed the resolution, said the day will be about about recognizing native ancestors and shedding light on history that’s often “overlooked by mainstream society.”

“I think a lot of people recognize that there’s a lot of information just left out of what’s in their history books,” Castaneda-Lopez said Tuesday. “A lot of crimes were committed against the native and indigenous people that we should be aware of.”

Detroit joins a growing number of cities adopting such a policy including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Columbus Day, which was observed on Monday, recognizes how Italian Christopher Columbus brought the Americas to the attention of Europe in the 1490s. But critics argue that natives were already settled on American soil when Columbus arrived.

Castaneda-Lopez initially proposed the removal of the Christopher Columbus bust in downtown Detroit in favor of a monument that would pay tribute to an indigenous figure. But the idea was dropped when it was unclear whether the city has the authority to do so.

Building a monument that honors an indigenous figure somewhere in Detroit is still in the plans.

The holiday acknowledgment was criticized by several people who spoke during the council session, arguing the resolution would take away a day that also celebrates Italian-American heritage.

Some suggested that Detroit keep Columbus Day and celebrate indigenous people on a separate day.

William Giovan, a retired Wayne County Circuit Court judge, challenged arguments that Columbus started genocide and slavery in the Americas.

“There are ways to honor Native Americans without concurrently disputing and causing dissension along a great section of this community,” Giovan said.

Pam White of Oakland Township said the idea “would be a great dishonor to the Italian-Americans. The people that come, they spend their money down here, they want to be a part of Detroit and yet you’re going to take away something from them.”

Castaneda-Lopez said the proposal was not meant to attack Italian-Americans, but tell a more “accurate” version of history.

David Pitawanakwat, a senior at Wayne State University in Detroit, said he supported the new holiday. He said most people are not taught the real history of America, including the tribes that settled here.

“I think we teach these young children these false narratives today out of fear of losing a part of our national identity,” Pitawanakwat said.

Castaneda-Lopez said she expects Detroiters will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day with pow-wows, educational workshops and cultural events.

The change comes in the wake of an August protest of the city’s Columbus statute.