Red Wing drops Columbus Day for 'Chief Red Wing Day'

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The city of Red Wing is changing the name of Columbus Day to Chief Red Wing Day, to honor its namesake and American Indian heritage, after a vote by the City Council Monday.

The council approved the change on a 4-0 vote, with two members voting "present" and one absent, the Forum News Service reports.

The move is largely symbolic, because Columbus Day is a federal holiday and city offices are not closed on that day, Council President Lisa Bayley noted. But she said the change is still important, according to the Forum News.

"There are a lot of things we do that are symbolic," Bayley said. "And we do it because symbols matter."

The move follows a similar action taken last Friday by the Minneapolis City Council, which voted unanimously to rename the October holiday as “Indigenous People’s Day.”

Red Wing history teacher Scott Bender has campaigned to change Columbus Day for the past two years, and it won the support of the city's Human Rights Commission earlier this year, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports.

Critics note that Christopher Columbus did not discover what is now the United States, although that misconception persists. He was cruel to indigenous people he found in the West, even enslaving them, historians say. And Columbus never even set foot in North America; he made landfall on islands in the Caribbean Sea.

The issue is especially sensitive in Red Wing, because the city is named after the Dakota Indian Chief Hupahu Duta — "a swan's wing dyed in red"—and is home to hundreds of members of the nearby Prairie Island Indian Community.

City officials met with the Prairie Island Tribal Council last month to discuss the issue, and it was at that point the tribal council suggested the day be named for Chief Red Wing rather than other options such as First Peoples Day, according to the Post-Bulletin.

The actions in Minneapolis and Red Wing are sparking discussions over Columbus Day in Bemidji, according to the Bemidji Pioneer. The Bemidji Area Race Relations Council may take up the issue at its May meeting, according to the newspaper.

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