GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks is one step closer to ditching Columbus Day.
On Monday, city council members, acting as the city’s Committee of the Whole, unanimously approved a resolution that would replace the holiday named after the notorious explorer with “Indigenous Peoples Day.” The resolution will head to the council proper at its meeting next week.
“For many, our survival, our advocacy, and this resolution represent a move, a step forward, to rectify the wrongdoings of colonizers of the past,” said Courtney Davis Souvannasacd, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and Grand Forks resident who spoke at an occasionally emotional public comment period for the resolution. “We cannot change history’s mistakes and misfortune. This is not an attempt to weaken the history most of us were taught in grade school. This is an opportunity to strengthen histories and accurately portray all perspectives to include narratives of the Indigenous people who are here and are still here. Who were here and are still here.”
Davis Souvannasacd and other proponents of the change packed the council chambers. One speaker asked committee members to set up a new day for Indigenous people and "leave Columbus Day alone." The rest pushed to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Some pointed to the colonizer’s brutal legacy in the Caribbean or that he never set foot in what would become the United States. Others said lifting up a holiday recognizing indigenous people would be an important cultural step forward, or that celebrating the Genoa-born Columbus’ legacy isn’t a fitting tribute to the area’s Italian immigrants.
“We are much happier being remembered for cannolis and coffee cake and coffee in the evening,” said Kelly Gorz to a peal of laughter. “We don’t need Columbus Day.”
At least 122 cities and municipalities, three counties, two school districts, nine colleges and universities, and seven states have proclaimed an Indigenous Peoples Day, according to meeting documents submitted by City Administrator Todd Feland on behalf of city council member Katie Dachtler, who led the charge among council members to replace the holiday.
“It is time,” council member Sandi Marshall said moments before the unanimous vote, which drew a sustained round of applause. “It’s past time for us to make this change.”
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Committee of the Whole members voted to send the resolution to the council proper unamended, which means language recognizing that Grand Forks was built upon indigenous homelands and encouraging residents here to “explore and acknowledge Christopher Columbus’ violent and tragic mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples” was retained.
Council member Danny Weigel worried about removing a holiday meant to recognize Italian Americans, but said he supports Indigenous Peoples Day and nonetheless voted “yes” for the resolution as-is. He read excerpts from an open letter written by the National Italian American Foundation that said it would be “culturally insensitive” to replace one holiday with the other.
“As a city, we strive to be welcoming to all backgrounds,” Weigel said. “I would offer that we create an Indigenous Peoples Day and that we also find a way to celebrate our Italian American population, possibly at the same time.”
As it's set to appear before the council next week, the resolution characterizes Indigenous Peoples Day as an “opportunity to celebrate the thriving cultures and positive values of the Indigenous People of our region.”
“We’re not asking for a formal apology,” said Hillary Kempenich, a longtime Grand Forks resident who spoke in favor of the resolution. “We’re just simply asking for you to correct the mistruths that have been bestowed upon us throughout our educational system and throughout our communities.”
Not present at the meeting was council member Dana Sande. Bret Weber participated by phone, but Ken Vein apparently ran into technical difficulties that prevented him from voting. Feland told committee members that Vein intended to listen on Monday and “engage” at the council meeting next week.