OBERLIN — Passions flared Monday during a City Council meeting during which dozens of people came to show their support for replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Two spoke against the resolution. A resident who told Council she was “disappointed” in the action and left before her name could be recorded and Jonathan Petrea, a representative of the Knights of Columbus.
Petrea described Columbus as a “fearless explorer and brilliant navigator” who was “falsely blamed for the actions of those who came after him.”
“We strongly object and oppose any efforts to abolish or diminish Columbus,” Petrea said. “He has been the victim of horrific slander concerning his conduct.”
He asked Council to find “another day that might be more appropriate” to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.
Despite the pair of objections, Council unanimously accepted a first reading of a resolution to implement Indigenous Peoples Day and thanked the indigenous community for its support and educational efforts on the topic.
If the city passes the resolution, it would be the first in Ohio to recognize the holiday.
“We want to get this right if we’re going to do it,” Council President Ronnie Rimbert said.
Council heard from many supporters including Sundance, the executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement; Jeff Pierce, spokesman for the Ohio American Indian Movement; Robert Roche, executive director of the American Indian Education Center of Cleveland; Antoinette Myers, Oberlin College assistant dean of students and director of the Multicultural Resource Center; and Liz Schultz, executive director of the Oberlin Heritage Center.
Under the resolution, the second Monday of October, federally recognized as Columbus Day, would become Indigenous Peoples Day in Oberlin.
To fully implement the day, Law Director Jon Clark said there needs to be revisions to the city employee policy manual, union contracts and the city’s published calendars to replace Columbus Day.
The reference to Indigenous Peoples Day in union contracts would need to be handled during negotiations, which begin later this year and early next year.
“The city of Oberlin values the many contributions made to the community through the labor, technology, science, philosophy, art and the deep cultural contributions of Indigenous People all which have helped to shape the character of Oberlin,” the resolution states. “Council … wishes to memorialize its appreciation for the many contributions that Indigenous People have made to the city and the country and to acknowledge the sacrifices that have accompanies those contributions.”
In the resolution, Council encourages businesses, organizations and public entities, including the public schools, to join in the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day and to celebrate the contributions of indigenous people.
“(Columbus) is single handedly responsible … for decimating cultures, for rape, murder, a complete genocide, and when you pay tribute to Christopher Columbus by calling it Columbus Day, it endorses that behavior,” Pierce said.
Roche called Columbus “a barbarian and slave trader” and “not some person that we would put on a pedestal.”
“We would compare Columbus to Adolf Hitler in terms of genocide,” Roche said. “We’re not supportive of any terminology with the Columbus name on it and should be part of the curriculum to teach the truth of who Columbus was.”
Schultz read from letters which Columbus had written in 1493 that showed intent to claim land and convert people to Christianity.
“The very first acts of Columbus were of conquest,” Schultz said. “It is not worthy of celebration.”
A second reading of the resolution is scheduled for June 19.
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