UPDATE: The ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ resolution failed to pass on Tuesday.
The city council voted 4-4 with one council member absent from voting.
Councilman Pete White asked for the resolution to be put back on the agenda in two weeks so the absent council member may be the tie-breaker vote.
OKLAHOMA CITY – For Native Americans in and around Oklahoma City, Oct. 12 can be a painful day.
“This is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time,” said Sarah Adams-Cornell. “The fact that our country, our state and our city celebrate this holiday around this man who murdered and enslaved and raped indigenous people and decimated an entire population.”
Adams-Cornell is talking about Christopher Columbus and the holiday each fall that bears his name. Instead of celebrating the now-controversial explorer, Adams-Cornell wants to focus the holiday on the country’s native people.
“For us, this is about not only telling the truth and education but also about coming together as a community to do something better,” she said.
Adams-Cornell was just one of several Native Americans from a variety of tribes and a variety of places speaking at Oklahoma City’s city council meeting Tuesday, asking city leaders to change the name of the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
“[We’re] coming together to honor indigenous people instead of a man who murdered, enslaved and killed hundreds of thousands of indigenous people,” said Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, who addressed the council. “It’s a disservice to teach our children a made-up history.”
Councilman Pete White agrees. The representative of the fourth ward said he plans to push an ordinance forward at the next council meeting that would make the change. He said he’s not sure how much support he will receive from the other members of council.
“First of all, Columbus didn’t discover America. Second, in the name of Christianity and a lot of other things, he killed a lot of people,” White said. “I’m not sure he deserves to be celebrated.”
A simple change in the name will likely not make much of a difference for the city, White said. City workers don’t even get the day off work.
“It would be largely symbolic,” he said. “So, to change it would be to change it on our calendar but not much else.”
But, that symbolism is enough for Sarah Adams-Cornell.
“By celebrating it, we’re silently saying that this is ok and it’s not,” she said. “This is not someone that we should be looking up to, that we should be teaching our children he’s a hero.”
Activists hope to have the ordinance passed in time for this year’s holiday.
They plan to voice their opinions again at the Sept. 29 city council meeting.