City officials in Red Wing are sailing toward a proposal to rechristen Columbus Day as "First People's Day."
The city's Human Rights Commission is urging a change that would honor the region's early settlers instead of the explorer who many historians say is not especially worthy of celebration, the Star Tribune reports.
Critics note that Christopher Columbus did not discover what is now the United States, although that misconception persists. And he was cruel to people he found in the West, even enslaving them, historians say. As the Washington Post notes in "three things you think Columbus did that he didn't" – Columbus never even set foot in North America. (He made landfall on Caribbean islands.)
"The Native Americans had an amazing civilization, and the more we find out about it the more we realize we don't know," Red Wing Human Rights Commissioner Dorothy Eckblad told FOX 9.
Here's a two-page backgrounder on the issue from the city of Red Wing, including the resolution itself. Among other points, the resolution notes that Columbus never made any meaningful contribution to Minnesota.
A full city vote will be required to change the name of the October holiday in Red Wing. City Council members seem inclined to make the change.
“It took me a while to come around to this, but I really think you are on the right track here,” Council Member Dean Hove told the commission at a Monday meeting, the Red Wing Republican Eagle reported.
Council members are looking for feedback from the local Prairie Island Indian community. The Prairie Island Tribal Council released a statement noting that it had not had adequate time to consider the proposal. But the statement said, "The Mdewakanton Dakota have lived on Prairie Island and in the Red Wing area for countless generations, and the Tribal Council appreciates any effort to recognize and honor the unique cultural and historical connection of the Mdewakanton Dakota to the Red Wing area.”
Columbus Day was designated a federal holiday in 1937. Cities and states vary in how they treat the day. In Red Wing, city buildings remain open and it is not a school holiday, the Republican Eagle notes.
A number of cities across the country do not recognize the Columbus Day holiday. South Dakota in 1989 changed the name to "Native American Day."
“There’s a lot to celebrate in our Indian community,” commission member Scott Bender, an eighth-grade social studies teacher in Red Wing, told the newspaper. “There’s not a whole lot to celebrate in the Christopher Columbus story.”