City Council votes to stop recognizing Columbus Day

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 - 8:16pm

Columbus Day is no more, at least in the city of Ann Arbor.

The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously on Monday to recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day in lieu of Columbus Day.

The resolution was proposed by Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5), who said the idea for the resolution began over a year ago when other communities drew attention for honoring the area’s indigenous people instead of the explorer who was traditionally portrayed as the person who “discovered” America.

Warpehoski said a resolution did not go through last year in part because he wanted to seek the input and support of indigenous groups in the community.

“To make this change, it should be done in partnership with indigenous people and not just as an act of charity without their consultation,” Warpehoski said.

Warpehoski said he reached out to local schools and worked in partnership with Ypsilanti Mayor Amanda Edmonds to draft the final resolution. Without local tribal governments to consult, he instead contacted the University’s Native American Student Association and, through his partnership with Edmonds, the Eastern Michigan Native American Student Association.

“I grew up in a town in northern Wisconsin where there was a Ojibwe reservation on one side of me and a Potawatomi reservation on the other side of me,” Warpehoski said. “They were local tribal institutions that were available for contact. That’s not something we have here currently in Washtenaw County, so finding indigenous leaders is a different process.”

Public Policy senior Isa Gaillard, co-chair of the Native American Student Association at the University, said his organization proposed adding language to the resolution calling on the city to recognize the indigenous Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Wyandot tribes who lived on what is now the University’s campus.

“We really think that that’s an important part of the proposal, talking about the land grant connection and how that land was a gift from the indigenous people here with the hope that their children would be educated there,” Gaillard said.

Gaillard said Warpehoski spoke at NASA meetings with the aim of involving the student group in the process. Though Gaillard initially was surprised a councilmember wanted the help of a student group in crafting the resolution, he said NASA was ultimately happy to help.

Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3), an LSA senior, said Michigan was historically home to native people who were disenfranchised and mistreated, and changing the name of the holiday is a small step to honor those individuals.

“I think Ann Arbor should be a progressive leader, and one way in which we can do that is to in some small way right a historic wrong of our nation,” Ackerman said.

Ackerman said he was surprised action hadn’t been taken already.

“I was shocked to hear that Councilmember Briere had brought up that this was brought to the table in decades previous and that no action had been taken,” Ackerman said. “I’m glad that we can correct that now.”

Councilmember Chip Smith (D–Ward 5) said the resolution was long overdue and though he was not on City Council when the first resolution was proposed, he would have supported it.

“I think what’s changed is a better cultural understanding of some of the insensitivities of some of these traditions that we’ve established,” he said. “I just think that the times have changed pretty significantly in the last 20 years and I think the time was right to do this.”

Warpehoski said the feedback he received from the resolution was overwhelmingly positive, and though he was prepared for some pushback, the unanimous vote did not come as a surprise.

“I think we all share a hope that this is more than just a changing on the name on the calendar, but it becomes an opportunity for a deeper community conversation about what’s happening with indigenous communities,” Warpehoski said. “It is a stereotype that Indians are only in history books for many people and one of my goals is that through the education effort that groups like the Native American Student Associations are doing they will get a chance to say yes, they’re still here.”