TRAVERSE CITY — A request to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Traverse City likely will face an uphill battle with city commissioners without support from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
An environmental and Native American rights group known as Idle No More Michigan petitioned the city commission on June 2 to adopt a resolution to change the name of the federal holiday in all city documents and communications. The city doesn’t recognize or celebrate the national holiday established in 1937 as the second Monday in October, other than in its city fireworks ordinance, but organizers said silence also send a wrong message.
“Many people do not know the absolute truth of what Christopher Columbus actually did, which is quite horrific” said city resident Timothy Grey. “He was ... in charge of a very large genocide and instituting the slave trade and also child sex trade.
“To have a day that celebrates such a horrific human being is beyond comprehension,” Grey said.
Columbus discovered the New World for Europe in 1492 while searching for a new passageway to the Far East. He never set foot in North America, but visited several Caribbean islands over four trips across the Atlantic.
Opponents don’t object to his voyage of discovery, but instead what came afterward, including his stint as Spanish Governor of the island of Hispaniola. Historical documents — including Columbus’s own journal entries — show his harsh rule included the forced labor of indigenous people and selling thousands into slavery that along with disease decimated native populations.
“I’ve seen the museums in the West Indies where Columbus landed and took slaves,” said Lee Sprague, a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. “There are far better Italians to celebrate.”
Four states and several cities have adopted similar resolutions. West said he spoke to five commissioners after the June 2 meeting and they were “eager to move it forward.”