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Legislators and tribesmen say the holiday on Monday should honor tribal peoples – instead of Columbus – across Illinois

Lawmakers and activists gathered in Pottawattomie Park in Rogers Park on Monday to demand that Columbus Day be replaced with a public holiday to instead honor indigenous peoples across the state.

Last week, Cook County’s Board of Commissioners postponed a vote to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day for the second time this year. The rally, organized by the Coalition on Indigenous Peoples Day, called for action on Cook County Board members who they claimed “clung to a racist past” – despite a lawmaker admitting part of the The board’s objections were due to how some tribes treated the offspring of their black slaves.

The county is home to the ninth largest urban indigenous community in the United States and is on the land of the Ojibwe, Odawa, Ho-Chunk and other tribes, the resolution said to replace the holiday.

“We need more votes, to be honest,” said Commissioner Brandon Johnson, the resolution’s sponsor, at the rally on Monday.

Cook County commissioners last week postponed a decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day for the second time this year, Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Johnson said he initially had enough support to pass the resolution, but the vote was postponed in May after Commissioner Stanley Moore’s rejection. Moore’s great-great-grandfather was a Black Choctaw whose family had been slaves to the Choctaw Nation.

Moore said that despite his ancestors’ ties to the tribe, the other relatives of the freedmen were denied recognition as descendants, denying them access to benefits such as education, housing assistance and casino winnings. Last spring, Moore and other descendants of freedmen from other tribes called for a No to the Tribal Peoples Day resolution until the tribes recognize it.

On Monday, Johnson said he would “work” with Moore to pass the resolution.

“We actually see it as an opportunity to bring up the issue of freedmen and there are indigenous tribes here who are pushing for it and pushing for indigenous peoples at the same time,” said Johnson. “This is my brother, my colleague and he brings an important topic with him.”

However, Johnson also said he believed other Cook County board members were “intimidated” by a number of Italian-American groups opposed to changing the holiday.

“There are a handful of powerful people who got on the minds of some of my colleagues and convinced them that they are still afraid of Christopher Columbus,” he said. “He no longer hunts or runs over the blacks and browns. We don’t need to be afraid of him. “

State Representative Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago, said she would bring a bill in Springfield to replace Columbus Day with State-level Indigenous Peoples Day and force schools across Illinois to recognize the change, she said.

Delia Ramirez, of Illinois, speaks about continually proposing laws to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day at Pottawattomie Park at 7340 N. Rogers Ave in Rogers Park to protest after Cook County's commissioners have refused to advance an action that will replace Columbus Day with tribal peoples' day, Monday October 11, 2021

Illinois state representative Delia Ramirez said the holiday change was an “end”. [of] white supremacy and structural racism. “Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Other city councils and state officials from across Cook County also gathered for a change in the holiday.

Ald. La Spata (1st), an Italian-American, said those fighting to keep Columbus Day on the calendar are a “voiced minority” of the Italian-American community who are “ignorant of a past, to which we don’t have to hold on ”.

“There’s just a line between the oppressed and the oppressor – those who have been hurt in the past and those who hold onto a symbol of hurt – and you have to decide where you will stand,” said La Spata.

Last week, many of the Italian-American community campaigned with the district commissioners to uphold the holiday, arguing that it was proud of their Italian heritage and the persistence of the Italian-American community in the face of violence against immigrants in the late 19th and 20th centuries early 20th century.

However, during Monday’s protest, Choctaw and Ojibwe tribes of Chicagoans danced and spoke in their native language as they called for a change to a holiday they say constitutes indigenous trauma.

Maritza Garcia of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians performed asHealing ”while her Choctaw tribe member Dave Spencer sang along while beating a deerskin drum.

Maritza Garcia, who embroidered and sews her traditional dress herself, said the holiday should have been changed a long time ago.  Garcia speaks about the backdrop at Pottawattomy Park at 7340 N. Rogers Ave in Rogers Park to protest after Cook County commissioners refused to promote a measure that will mark Columbus Day through Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, Jan. October 2021.  |  Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Maritza Garcia, who embroidered and sews her traditional dress herself, said Columbus Day should have been changed to Indigenous Peoples Day a long time ago, Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Wearing a handmade beaded medical gown with otter skins and clinking lids from tobacco containers, Garcia said the dance was a way for her to pray for healing for herself and her family on the reservation.

“Our culture is still alive; our culture is still there, ”said Garcia. “We may not live in teepees anymore. We have adapted to the changes, but we are not gone. “

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