OBERLIN — With enthusiasm, the Oberlin City Council changed the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
The unanimous vote for the resolution was anticipated, though it was not without opposition. Council voted about 8:15 p.m. Monday after nearly an hour of public comment from people for and against replacing the federally recognized holiday.
“I am in support, and believe it’s the right thing to do,” Councilwoman Sharon Pearson said. Councilwoman Linda Slocum said she learned a lot about Christopher Columbus during the research of the resolution and came to the same conclusion.
“Columbus has enjoyed 500 years of praise, and it’s now time to shift the spotlight,” Slocum said.
Council had worked for months to put together a resolution with input from the Indigenous Peoples Day Committee, a group of residents who have pushed to do away with Columbus Day.
Morning Dove Jean Simon spoke on behalf of the committee and thanked Council for its efforts.
“We cannot remain invisible anymore,” Simon said. “When the original people of the land speak up and speak out, it’s with great thought, and we’ve asked you to listen, and you’ve done that,” Simon said. “The time for our healing is now. To quote an old Chinese proverb, ‘Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it.’ ”
Several others thanked Council, including Sundance, executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement and a resident of Oberlin, and Jeff Pierce, spokesman for the Ohio American Indian Movement.
The resolution recognizes that land claimed for the Oberlin Colony in 1833 was once part of land occupied by the Erie Tribe, known as Cat Nation, who were later absorbed by the Iroquois Nation.
Included in the resolution is an invitation to businesses, organizations and public entities, including the school district, to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day and include information about the history of indigenous peoples in curriculum.
As part of its passage, the city will revise its calendars and take other actions to implement Indigenous Peoples Day.
Monday marked the third reading of the resolution, which had passed unanimously on two prior occasions.
Janet Garrett, a resident of Oberlin who is running to represent Ohio’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House, said she’s proud to tell people she’s from the city on her campaign stops.
“Oberlin has been at the forefront of history at every step of the game,” Garrett said. “When I told people this was going on, they said ‘Wow!’ They were very impressed, because we are at the forefront of history”
Devon Schultz, an eighth-grader in Oberlin, said he’ll be proud to go back to school this week and tell his friends “there is not a mass-murderer being celebrated in our fine city.”
“School starts in two days, and I am going to into eighth grade, and I have talked with a lot of people at my grade level, some above and some below, about this issue,” Schultz said. “Of course there are some that were for it, and there were people that were against it, and that’s fine. Since a lot of them were teenagers, a lot of them just didn’t care, but, you know, that’s going to happen.
“Not only are you setting an example as the first in Ohio … but you’re setting an example for the youth of this city,” Schultz said.
Not everyone was happy about the decision.
Michael Palazzolo, an Oberlin resident, read the names of everyone in the phone book from Oberlin with a last name of Italian origin in opposition to doing away with Columbus Day.
“These are all people of Italian-American origin that live and work in this community,” Palazzolo said. “It’s not so much a celebration of Christopher Columbus, but of Italian-American pride.
“Just like Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and everybody else takes off and gets drunk, and everyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo, not just Mexican-Americans, everybody goes out and gets drunk, Columbus Day is a day that Italian-Americans celebrate, not by going out and getting drunk, but by spending time with their family. I’m really disheartened by the way you guys don’t care.”
Joe Filipiak, a resident of Grafton and a member of the Knights of Columbus, encouraged Council to look at all the good the organization does in the name of Columbus.
“I applaud you to have an Indigenous Peoples Day, but please leave Christopher Columbus Day in existence,” Filipiak said.
Basil Russo, who is chairman of the Cleveland Columbus Day Parade Committee and national president of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, called the move “a subtle form of bigotry.”
“In its misguided effort to portray Oberlin as a city of inclusion, all this City Council will accomplish is to characterize Oberlin as a city of intolerance and exclusion,” Russo said. “That perception will remain firmly entrenched in the minds and hearts of Italian-Americans, as well as people who truly embrace diversity, for years to come.”
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