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“Native American Day” to replace Columbus Day in Tulsa

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Native Americans celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day on the University of Oklahoma campus.
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TULSA, Okla. – The year 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of Columbus Day being declared a federal holiday by the U.S. government.

It was on Oct. 12, 1492 that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas, encountering the indigenous people who had already been there for thousands of years.

And while Italian-American groups have celebrated Columbus for decades, it was not until 1937 that Columbus Day was designated a federal holiday (following heavy lobbying of the Roosevelt administration by the Knights of Columbus), with the observance being the second Monday in October.

But in recent years, backlash and criticism of Columbus Day has grown because more historical information has been made widely available about Columbus’s treatment of the indigenous people of the Americas and his role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, genocide and other atrocities.

So, on Sept. 20, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum brought a resolution to the city council to vote on adding “Native American Day” as an official holiday and would be celebrated on the second Monday of October. This year it falls on Oct. 9.

The resolution was unanimously supported by Bynum and the nine council members.

“We should have been the first city to adopt this holiday,” Bynum told the council.

Offices for the City of Tulsa will remain open on Native American Day.

More commonly known as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Tulsa is now the largest city in Oklahoma to recognize Native Americans in an official way with an official day. Approximately 30,000 Native Americans call Tulsa home, many belonging to the Osage, Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations.

And up to this point, the City of Oklahoma City has defeated numerous efforts by passionate activists to get Indigenous Peoples’ Day established in the state’s largest city and its capital city –  a city that is also home to the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum and has a large Native American population.

Back in 2015, when the City Council voted 4-4, resulting in the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution’s defeat, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who was a “no” vote, said at the time that a vote against Indigenous Peoples’ Day should not be perceived as an attack on Native American culture, adding that this effort by indigenous activists “is a trial about Christopher Columbus.”

Added Cornett at that time: “I’m not there yet,” he said of his decision to vote against the resolution. “And I hope no one feels insulted by my unwillingness to support it.”

Cornett and many of the same council members who voted against it in 2015 also voted against it in 2016.

Supporters of Indigenous Peoples' Day in the OKC City Council chambers in 2016. (E.I. Hillin / Red Dirt Report)

Live Indigenous OK leader Sarah Adams-Cornell, an Oklahoma City resident and member of the Choctaw nation, said they were not going to approach the City Council again this year, opting to wait until next year to bring it up again. Currently, they are working with The Village City Council on voting on an Indigenous Peoples' Day resolution.

Cornett, who is stepping down as mayor in 2018, is running as a Republican for governor of Oklahoma.

In the meantime, Anadarko, Norman and several universities, including the University of Oklahoma, recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Andrew W. Griffin contributed to this story.

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Spencer Cox

Spencer Cox is a journalist based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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