Posted October 7, 2015 by Cooper Point Journal in News

Olympia Recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the First Time

By Chloe Marina Manchester

Olympia will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time on October 12. This change comes after a proclamation by Mayor Stephen H. Buxbaum was presented in early August.

An event commemorating the day will be held in Sylvester Park. Organizer Lala Love said that the community celebration will include a drum circle, a speech from Mayor Buxbaum, speakers from local indigenous tribes, and an open mic for others to share feelings on the day.

Whether or not Indigenous Peoples’ Day is technically replacing Columbus Day is uncertain since Olympia does not officially celebrate or recognize Columbus Day, but closes government offices and does not charge for parking on that day.

“I think that the city provides free parking on the second day in October, which signifies they think it’s a holiday,” Said Lala Love, a community organizer for the upcoming Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration. “Not recognizing Columbus Day isn’t enough. Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a step down a path of recovery. ”

Olympia follows the Seattle City Council and the Portland School Boards, which both declared that they would observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October 2014. As well as the city of Bellingham changed Columbus Day to Salish Day, in honor of a local indigenous tribe.

The day after the October 6th, 2014 ruling in Seattle, about forty people attended an Olympia City Council meeting to urge them to adopt the holiday as well. Several local tribes, including the Squaxin, Nisqually, Quileute, and Quinault nations were represented at the meeting. Around two dozen people participated in a blessing and sang traditional songs lead by tribal members outside City Hall. Now, a year later, Olympia has announced it will join the cities that observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The proclamation released by the Mayor’s office outlines the purpose of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, saying, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous People, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Squaxin, Nisqually, Puyallup, Chehalis, Suquamish, Duwamish, and other Indigenous nations add to our city.”

It goes on to to recognize that “Olympia is built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the City would not have been possible,” and later mention the responsibility Olympia has to work towards dismantling systemic racism against indigenous people.

“Indigenous Peoples Day reimagines Columbus Day, transforming a celebration of a known murder of our Indigenous Peoples into an opportunity to expose historical truths about the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas,” said community organizer Brian Frisina. “It is time for us to recognize and celebrate indigenous resistance. It is time we stop the genocidal attack of Mama Earth and the Original Peoples of this world if we are going to survive. It is time for us all to start the healing.”

“I do believe we will abolish Columbus Day. I would like to think within the next year or two,” said community organizer Marles Blackbird. Other community members spoken to who are organizing the event felt similarly.

“The city of Olympia does not own the day, but we are supporting and working closely with the community members who are organizing an event in Sylvester park,” said Kellie Purce Braseth, Strategic Communications Director for the City of Olympia.

Since the inception of Columbus Day in 1934, Native Americans and their allies have opposed it. Christopher Columbus never set foot in what we now call the United States but brutalized Native Americans from the caribbean islands. Following his discovery, the colonization that he made possible led to the genocide of the indigenous people in what we now call the U.S.

These actions have had lasting effects to this day. Indigenous People are still dealing with this legacy of racism. According to the US Department of Justice, nearly half of all Native American women have been raped, beaten, or stalked by an intimate partner; 34.1 percent will be raped in their lifetime, compared to 17.7 percent of all American women. Additionally, Native Americans are six times as likely to be killed by police than the average for all races. This is part of the institutionalized racism in America to which many feel Columbus Day seems to offer a nod of acceptance, if not an outright celebration of the same racism that affects people to this day.

As Love said, “We need to recognize indigenous people, we need to recognize that we are on occupied land, and we need to have some conversations that will provide lots of room for growth, and healing in our community. Recognizing Indigenous People’s Day is a step down a path of recovery.”