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OKC City Council hears Native American request to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Native American activist Sarah Adams-Cornell smiles after addressing the City Council of Oklahoma City regarding efforts to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – At the end of a lengthy meeting of the City Council of Oklahoma City on Tuesday morning, Native American activists were given an opportunity to address the council about their desire for a resolution to be considered and hopefully passed, a resolution changing what the city and nation observe as Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

If the resolution is passed at a future council meeting, it would make Oklahoma City the fourth major city in the United States to replace the Columbus Day observance – held on the second Monday of October – to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Here in Oklahoma, tribal nations throughout the state have already changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day or names that celebrate tribal contributions to Oklahoma and to the U.S.

Among the major cities which have recently changed from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day include Seattle, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., and smaller towns like Alpena, Mich. Just last night, the City of Anadarko, Oklahoma passed its own resolution recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day in that Caddo County community.

Four states also recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii, while South Dakota refers to it as Native American Day.

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day came to fruition in 1977 at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, which was sponsored by the United Nations. Later, Berkeley, Calif. would officially adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, during the 500th anniversary celebration of Columbus’ voyage to the Americas.

Native American activist and Oklahoma City resident Sarah Adams-Cornell, a member of the Choctaw Nation, was the first to address the council.

“So many of our people want to see this changed,” Adams-Cornell explained to the city council. “It is a long time coming for us.”

If passed, Adams-Cornell said, it would allow Oklahoma City to “appropriately celebrate America’s history in a more respectful and factually accurate manner, honorably reflecting the values of Oklahoma City citizens in 2015.”

Adams-Cornell reminded the council that while many Americans are taught to believe Christopher Columbus “discovered” America in 1492, “millions of indigenous people (already) inhabited the land.”

“We now know the crimes committed by Columbus were so heinous that it resulted in an entire population of indigenous people being wiped out,” Adams-Cornell told the council. “I believe we have an opportunity to come together as a community, as leaders and citizens, to do something great, something that is honorable and befitting our city and its strong Native American people and nations. We can celebrate our thriving cultures which exemplify a city that is inclusive to all of its citizens.

Sarah Adams-Cornell talks to the media following her presentation of Indigenous Peoples' Day to the City Council of Oklahoma City on Tuesday morning. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

“Adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day would mean a great deal to the Native American community and would start an important conversation about the history of indigenous people and those who explore it here. This change would promote education and cooperation between communities that would only make us stronger. We have much to gain,” Adams-Cornell said, concluding by adding she and others look forward to working with the council over the next two weeks in hopes of the council voting and approving this resolution.

Also speaking before the council was Alaina Tahlate, a member of the Caddo Nation. Tahlate explained to the council how Columbus, in service to the King of Spain and his imperialistic ambitions, viewed the Arawak people as merely as naïve natives who would be easy to exploit and enslave, torture and murder. (Red Dirt Report noted this in our 2014 piece "The ocean blue").

As it turns out, Columbus and the Spanish invaders would commit genocide and completely wipe out the Arawak people of the Caribbean.

In the 1500's, a Spanish priest, Bartolome de las Casas, wrote of the utter barbarism and cruelty of the Spaniards, men who “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.”

Another speaker, Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, with the Pawnee Nation, echoed much of what Tahlate said about Columbus’ ghoulish behavior upon arriving in the New World and how Columbus made way for the expansionist notions of Manifest Destiny which would decimate millions of indigenous people already on the North American continent.

Native American activist and member of the Pawnee Nation, Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk talks to the media about Christopher Columbus' bloody and brutal legacy. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

“This is an attempt for you, Oklahoma City council to further evaluate the man behind the holiday in question,” Lyons Echo-Hawk said. 

The activists are hoping the vote will take place on the resolution on Sept. 29, the date of the next council meeting. And other than a welcome greeting from Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, the council, nor Mayor Mick Cornett, said little about the resolution request.


Regarding Anadarko's decision to officially observe Indigenous Peoples' Day on Monday, Oct. 12, Mayor Kyle Eastwood explained that the idea of Indigenous Peoples' Day was brought to him by David Scott, Anadarko's new executive director for the Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Choctaw nation. 

Eastwood said city workers usually worked on Columbus Day, while others got it off and that had been the tradition for years. With the unanimous passage on Monday night - a vote of 7-0 - of embracing Indigenous Peoples' Day in Anadarko, Eastwood said it was "an opportunity to reach out to our local tribes and to our Native American citizens who make up between 40 and 50 percent of Anadarko's population." And as a result, city workers will now get Indigenous Peoples' Day off, Eastwood said.

When asked if he was aware that Anadarko was likely the first community in Oklahoma to incorporate Indigenous Peoples' Day, Eastwood said they weren't interested in being first, but in simply doing the right thing.

Eastwood, who was elected Anadarko's mayor back in April, said there is "new leadership" in Anadarko, people who are bringing "a lot of energy and vision to the city. And with that, more forward-thinking ideas. 

Anadarko Mayor Kyle Eastwood. (Photo provided)

"We are trying to do what we can to repair some of the relationships that have been neglected or forgotten over the years. Anadarko does best when we're working together."

Eastwood said they are planning to have a signing ceremony in the near future. 

As for Scott, who brought the Indigenous Peoples' Day idea to Mayor Eastwood, he told Red Dirt Report that passage of Indigenous Peoples' Day is a "win-win" for Anadarko and the Native American community. 

"Here we are in 2015, rectifying a past wrong," Scott said. "I think it may be a little past due, but it's done. And we are leading the state in this regard."

Added Scott, "It's great that Anadarko is leading the way, ahead of Oklahoma City and Tulsa and some of the bigger areas."

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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