The Seattle City Council has voted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day on the same day as the federally recognized holiday Columbus Day, joining other cities in their initiative to honor Native American culture.
The council’s resolution, which passed unanimously on Monday, honors the contributions and culture of Native Americans and the indigenous community in Seattle. Indigenous Peoples' Day will be celebrated on the second Monday in October.
Tribal members and other supporters say the move recognizes the rich history of people who have inhabited the area for centuries.
"This action will allow us to bring into current present day our valuable and rich history, and it's there for future generations to learn," Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, said. Sharp is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. "Nobody discovered Seattle, Washington," she said to a round of applause.
Several Italian-Americans and others have objected to the move, saying Indigenous Peoples' Day honors one group while disregarding the Italian heritage of others.
Columbus Day is a federal holiday that commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who was Italian, in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492. It is not a legal state holiday in Washington.
"We don't argue with the idea of Indigenous Peoples' Day. We do have a big problem of it coming at the expense of what essentially is Italian Heritage Day," Ralph Fascitelli, an Italian-American who lives in Seattle, said.
"This is a big insult to those of us of Italian heritage. We feel disrespected," Fascitelli said. "America wouldn't be America without Christopher Columbus."
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is expected to sign the city council’s Indigenous People’s Day resolution on Oct. 13, his spokesman Jason Kelly said.
The city council in Bellingham, Washington, about 100 miles north of Seattle, is considering its own related initiative. Basted on the opinion that Columbus Day offends some Native Americans, Bellingham’s council is considering an ordinance on Oct. 13 that would recognize the second Monday in October as Coast Salish Day. The Coast Salish are an indigenous people from parts of the United States and Canadian West Coasts who share a linguistic and ethnic heritage.
The Seattle School Board decided last week to have its schools observe Indigenous Peoples' Day on the same day as Columbus Day. Earlier this year, Minneapolis also decided to designate that day as Indigenous Peoples' Day. South Dakota, meanwhile, celebrates Native American Day.
Seattle city council member Bruce Harrell said he understood the concerns of people in the Italian-American community, but he added, "I make no excuses for this legislation.” He said he had co-sponsored the resolution because he believes the city will not be successful in its social programs and outreach until "we fully recognize the evils of our past."
Council member Nick Licata, who is Italian-American, said he did not see the legislation as taking something away, but rather allowing everyone to celebrate a new day where everyone's strength is recognized.
David Bean, a member of the Puyallup Tribal Council, told council members the resolution demonstrates that the city values tribal members' history, culture, welfare and contributions to the community.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press