OBERLIN - City Council tabled what was expected to be a historic vote to abolish Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day to clarify some wording and consider opposition from the Italian-American community.
Council unanimously voted for the move on two prior readings of the resolution that would establish Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October, a holiday federally recognized as Columbus Day.
The vote was tabled until the Aug. 21 Council meeting. If the city moves forward with the resolution as proposed, it would be the first in Ohio to establish Indigenous Peoples Day.
Basil Russo, an attorney who is chairman of the Cleveland Columbus Day Parade Committee and national president of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, spoke out in opposition on behalf of dozens of people at the Council meeting Monday.
Though when asked by Councilwoman Sharon Soucy whether anyone against the resolution was from Oberlin, no one raised his hand.
"This is a uniquely Oberlin resolution," Soucy said, in explaining her position. "I'm willing to support tabling this, but I don't want this vote to be misunderstood. I'm happy with the resolution. I'm committed to the resolution.
"I understand there is some wording that needs to be addressed … but it has my full support," Soucy continued.
Councilman Kelley Singleton pushed Council to vote on it Monday but ultimately decided along with his peers to table the resolution.
"We've heard from people that have come out against this, but I haven't heard from anyone in Oberlin that is against this," Singleton said. "I take that as the city itself and citizens are in favor."
Russo clarified that the people he represents are not opposed to Indigenous Peoples Day, but they are opposed to it replacing Columbus Day.
He said Columbus Day is synonymous with Italian-American heritage and was established in 1937 as a way to "establish dignity and self-worth" after the community faced "significant prejudices" in America.
"Columbus Day is a day that our community uses to acknowledge the hardship our parents and grandparents have endured and sacrifices their parents have made for them," Russo said.
Russo said replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is "pitting one minority group against another."
He also took issue with the city's lack of outreach to the Italian-American community when compared with its inclusion of a group of Indigenous People in writing the resolution.
"Any effort to change the name of Columbus Day is highly offensive and highly disrespectful and very hurtful to the Italian-American community," Russo said. "If you're sincere in wanting to be fair and impartial, you'll refer the legislation back to committee and allow Italian-Americans to be part of the process as you have allowed the Native American community to do up until this point."
As a last point, Russo also said that if Council replaces Columbus Day, they'll next be asked to replace Presidents Day as President George Washington owned slaves.
Tony Mealy, a former Oberlin councilman, suggested moving Indigenous Peoples Day to the day after Thanksgiving, currently a paid holiday in the city.
His suggestion was met by applause.
Sundance, executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement and an Oberlin resident, responded by saying that the resolution is about truth and should be established as proposed.
"It is not a movement to denigrate Italians or Italian-Americans," Sundance said. "It's a movement to talk about what the truth is and the truth is that, if we honor a mass murderer, what does that say about us?"
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