Council says no to Indigenous Peoples' Day

The proposal was meant to celebrate Native Americans and their cultures. Cincinnati would have been the first city in Ohio to declare such a day, though other cities — most recently Spokane, Wash. — have done so.

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Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday declined to pass a resolution declaring the second Monday of October — long held for Columbus Day — as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The proposal was meant to celebrate Native Americans and their cultures. The motion would have made Cincinnati the first city in Ohio to declare such a day, though other cities — most recently Spokane, Wash. — have done so.

The Cincinnati Human Relations Commission spent more than a year working with activists to put the proposal together. It had passed out of Council’s Human Services Committee Monday.

Council members David Mann, Christopher Smitherman, Amy Murray, Kevin Flynn and Charlie Winburn abstained from voting on the motion, leaving just four council members supporting it.

“I think you might want to consider having it on an alternate day,” said Councilman Charlie Winburn. “You might get a 9-0 vote, if it had its own special day, I think you’d get the vote.”

No other members of Council commented on their abstentions.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who chairs the Human Services Committee, acknowledged that the idea has gotten some pushback since the committee passed the resolution.

“There’s been a lot said about what this is,” she said. “A lot of people have come out of the woodwork. I didn’t realize so many people were connected to Columbus Day. I’m getting all kinds of emails and calls. It’s not meant to rewrite history, but to tell the full story of the history of this country.”

Simpson read the entire resolution out loud, an unusual move for a Council vote.

Columbus Day celebrates Christopher Columbus’ journeys from Europe to the Americas beginning in 1492. Critics of the holiday argue that it ignores the oppression experienced by Native Americans and the continued vibrancy of their cultures and traditions.

A delegation of Native American groups first proposed the idea in Geneva in 1977 during the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, which was sponsored by the United Nations. Berkeley, California’s City Council in 1992 was the first to declare Columbus Day Indigenous People’s Day, and since that time a number of other municipalities have followed suit.

Cathina Hourani, a member of the Cherokee Nation who lives in Liberty Township, said the motion meant a lot to her. Her ancestors were removed from Georgia and forced to march the Trail of Tears in the late 1830s.

“By passing this, it will not only include Native Americans in this very diverse city, but it also means that what my family endured will not be forgotten, that they’ll be remembered and celebrated on Oct. 10.”

Jheri Neri, a Northside resident, Native American activist and CHRC staffer, said the resolution could have brought money to the city.

“Columbus Day itself is no longer being celebrated in many communities,” he said, noting that an Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Cincinnati could spur economic activity in the form of pow-wows and other events. Many cities, including Columbus, Ohio, no longer celebrate the day with a parade or other events. Columbus stopped its parade in the 1990s. 

Simpson said she would continue working on the initiative and urged supporters of the idea to lobby council members who abstained to try and change their minds.

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