“To me, Indigenous means being proud of who you are and where you come from; remembering your ancestry and all that they’ve doneto get us to where we are right now; and to educate our youth to be strong asNative People and to love themselves so our cultureand traditions stay alive.”
– Denise Hatch-Anderson, Tulalip tribal member
By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
For the past four years, the greater Seattle area has been celebrating the beautiful culture of the people who lived off of this land since time immemorial. Every second Monday in Octber, communities throughout western Washington host a variety of events to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which officially replaced Columbus Day back in 2014. Indigenous Peoples’ Day aims to provide Washingtonians with accurate information about the series of events that occurred after Columbus reached our lands in 1492. Many communities nationwide have joined Seattle and now celebrate Indigenous culture every year.
To start off the second week of Tulalip Unity Month, #KindnessWeek, Youth Services hosted a cultural gathering at the Greg Williams Court on the evening of Indigenous Peoples Day. The gym was packed and the bleachers were filled as people waited in anticipation for the festivities to begin. The youth proudly led Tulalip to the floor with loud drumbeats and booming chants in a song paying respect to the four directions. It didn’t take long for the spectators to become participants as the bleachers emptied and people joined Tulalip on the floor for a large coastal jam.
“Today I’m happy to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. That whole Christopher Columbus Day, we don’t recognize that,” says Tulalip tribal member and Tulalip Youth Services Activities Coordinator, Josh Fryberg. “The main thing is we want to honor our ancestors and make them proud and continue to set a cultural path, continue on with our treaty rights for the future generations to come. And we want to encourage the youth to continue to learn your culture each and every day and continue to fight for it so that it’s here for the future generations. Tonight, I believe we have Puyallup, Lummi, Swinomish and some from Canada, just a good mix of many tribes. We’re blessed, it shows the unity within all of our tribes and all of our bands.”
Native families created a circle around the gym and took turns performing their traditional songs and dances. A few songs were known to all of the coastal families in which more dancers hit the floor and the words were sung at a much louder volume by the entire crowd, causing that goosebump sensation during a beautiful moment for the culture. The youth ruled the night. Kids of all ages, infants to teens, sang their hearts out and danced all evening. After performing a song, the Tulalip youth put down their drums and rattles and joined the dancers on the floor until it was their turn to sing again, repeating this cycle for over two hours.
“It makes me feel good, it makes my heart warm because this is something that we needed,” says Tulalip tribal member and Marysville School District Native Liaison, Denise Hatch-Anderson. “October is always hard for our youth, not just because of the change in seasons but because of what happened four years ago. October has been a hard transition for our teens ever since. To see our teens here, knowing they’re going to get the healing they need from the songs tonight warms my heart and it’s going to uplift them as well as our tiny ones and our elders.”
Tulalip Youth Services will continue hosting a variety of activities throughout October for Unity Month including many fun autumn themed events that bring attention to issues such as bullying, domestic violence and substance abuse. For more information, please visit the Tulalip Youth Services Facebook page.
On the second Monday of October 2014, Seattle became the third place in the United States to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The process to end the celebration of a genocidal, slave trading, lost navigator was strenuous, but thanks to tireless work by activists like Matt Remle and many others, the proclamation was voted on by the Seattle City Council and signed into law by Mayor Ed Murray in 2013.
“People ask, ‘Why Indigenous Peoples Day and why not American Indian Day or Native American Day?’ It’s only appropriate that we honor the legacy of the work [that’s been done],” explains Remle. “It’s not only honoring legacy, but when we say ‘Indigenous peoples,’ it’s referring to more than just the tribes of colonized United States. We’re talking about all Indigenous peoples who’ve been impacted by settler colonialism around the world. We want to represent and acknowledge the Taíno, they’re the ones that first faced Columbus.”
Over the past four years, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement has spread to over 70 places in the United States, while locally becoming a day to celebrate global Indigenous cultures. On Monday, October 8, Indigenous people and allies from around the Pacific Northwest gathered at Westlake Park, on ancestral Duwamish land, for a march and rally to celebrate the 5th year Seattle has celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day. More than 200 people marched in heavy rain from Westlake Park to Seattle City Hall, where a rally of celebratory song and dance was held.
In the evening, the festivities continued at Daybreak Star Cultural Center with an honoring celebration for Native communities in the Puget Sound Region. Sponsored by Tulalip Tribes community impact funds, the Daybreak Star gathering included hundreds of urban Natives, dancers from a variety of tribal nations, and non-Natives who wanted to share in the memorable event.
“When we have an honoring gathering in our community, it is a way for us to show respect, to listen, and to acknowledge the incredible work our people do for one reason and one reason only – the love of Native people,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, emcee for the Daybreak Star celebration.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) honor song kicked off the evening, followed by Taíno dancers, and then a riveting performance by Indigenous Sisters Resistance. After a short intermission, a truly captivating fire ritual was performed by the Traditional Aztec Fire Dancers. The overflowing crowd was treated to performances by Haida Heritage and a powwow squad as the evening’s finale.
“It’s been a beautiful day to see so many Indigenous people come together and be filled with so much joy,” shared 19-year-old Ayanna Fuentes, a member of Indigenous Sisters Resistance. “Our younger generation is growing up not knowing what Columbus Day is, and that’s an amazing thing.”
“It’s also a celebration of the amazing resiliency of Indigenous peoples, period,” added educator and activist Matt Remle. “Despite the Euro colonizers greatest efforts at mass genocide, disposition, slavery, and assimilation, we as Native peoples are still here. Native communities continue to fight to protect the land, air, and waters. We continue to live traditional roles and responsibilities, which have been passed down from our origins as a peoples since the beginning of creation. We continue to sing our songs, relearn our languages and express ourselves through our dances and cultures.”
A variety of States, cities, towns, counties, community groups, schools, and other institutions observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 8th. They all did so with activities that raised awareness of the rich history, culture, and traditions of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
In 2014, the Seattle City Council unanimously elected to replace the national holiday known as Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday which celebrates Native American culture. It is no secret, in fact the atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus are well-documented. Under the name of colonization, Columbus and his crew raped, murdered and enslaved thousands, if not millions, of the Indigenous People who inhabited his ‘new-found land’.
Even though his crimes are well-documented, the majority of America seems to conveniently forget about his actions, often romanticizing his voyage and ‘discovery’ as the birth of a nation. Although several cities recently followed Seattle by declaring the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day, many Americans refuse to acknowledge the Italian explorer’s dark history and are upset that people are electing to celebrate Indigenous culture instead. This year, a Native American statue in Texas was vandalized with red paint, the vandals left behind a cross with a message that simply read ‘Columbus Day’ next to the statue.
President Donald Trump recently stated, “The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great nation. Therefore, on Columbus Day, we honor the skilled navigator and the man of faith, whose courageous feat brought together continents and has inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions – even in the face of extreme doubt and tremendous adversity.”
Due to schools nationwide inadequately teaching the history of Christopher Columbus, he is perceived by many as a stand-up guy; it may be years before the entire nation collectively agrees otherwise. However, Indigenous Peoples Day promotes awareness and education about Columbus, while celebrating the Native American culture, heritage and traditions.
On October 9, the United Indians of All Tribes gathered at Westlake Center in downtown Seattle and marched to City Hall. Throughout the march traditional songs and dances were on display as tribal members from across the nation, many in full regalia, celebrated being Indigenous. Upon reaching City Hall, local Indigenous leaders shared words of excitement, gratitude and encouragement with fellow marchers.
Following the march attendees were invited to a traditional salmon dinner at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center. Hundreds of local-based Natives attended the celebration at Daybreak, where special performances including songs, dances and poetry were shared. United Indians honored several community leaders with blankets designed by Eighth Generation by Louie Gong. In a Facebook post Hunkpapa Lakota member and local Native American Activist, Matt Remle, shared his feelings regarding this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration.
“I would like to express my deep gratitude to all those I had the opportunity to work with this year on our fourth annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration. We jammed for a good twelve hours from the streets of Seattle to Daybreak Star and it was all beautiful. Much behind the scene work goes into organizing these gatherings and so many are responsible for pulling it off – all for the love of who we are. I seen non-stop smiles, pride, joy and many tears. To all the singers, dancers, cooks, organizers much love, appreciation and gratitude. We’ll keep putting forth that good transformative energy as we live our values, roles and responsibilities daily. We’ll grow stronger, united for our children and grandchildren. They are watching and waiting. Hecetu welo.”
Congress made the second Monday of October a federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus in 1937. To all Indigenous, Native, and Fist Nations people, the commemoration of the man responsible for initiating the European colonization of the Americas, which led to hundreds of years of disease, colonial rule and genocidal extermination following the Italian explorer’s accidental trip to the Americas, is just another reminder of the ‘social silence’ we have had to endure as a culture.
‘Social silence’ is the anthropological term for a phenomenon that occurs in a human society when the subjects that are core to how the society function are exactly the ones that are never mentioned. Because European colonialism of the Americas and the mass genocide of millions of indigenous peoples led to the development of the United States (the beacon of hope, prosperity and freedom of the civilized world), there continues to be ‘social silence’ around the cruel and violent history of the United States, of colonialism, and of one Christopher Columbus.
If we maintain the social silence around colonialism, our past and present will always be bewildering. But if we break the silence, and talk about what truly matters, the confusing swirl of struggle and conflict can suddenly make sense. We become silent no more. We become Idle No More.
Last year, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to change the federal Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, making it the second major U.S. city after Minneapolis to adopt the change. The holiday’s new designation follows a decades-long push by Native American activists in the Coast Salish area to abolish Columbus Day.
Seattle’s decision garnered national media attention and, since then, major cities along the west coast, including Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Oregon, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and San Fernando, California, have passed legislation changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Days. Only days ago, Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed a momentous proclamation declaring the second Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While the state of Alaska is the first to rename the federal holiday, credit must be given to South Dakota, the first state to rename the federal holiday as Native American Day in 1990.
So it was with great pleasure and pride that the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution author Matt Remle, held an all-day celebration in Seattle on the 1st anniversary of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, October 12.
The celebration was comprised of three main events, to which any and all Native community members and supporters were freely invited to. The first event was a celebratory march from Westlake Park in downtown Seattle. Hundreds of people gathered at Westlake Park, most decked out in their Native regalia, and they beat their drums and sang as loud as they could while marching to their Seattle City Hall destination.
The second event took place in the Bertha Knight Landes room of Seattle City Hall, where Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrators were greeted by the Seattle Mayor and Seattle City Councilmembers.
“Last year we took a historic step in the city of Seattle, and today it is an honor to be here and be with all of you to celebrate the 1st anniversary of Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” said Seattle Mayor Edward Murray. “It marks a new history in the city of Seattle and continues our dialogue with the tens of thousands of Native Americans who call Seattle home. It goes without saying that the history of this city is intertwined with the history of our Native peoples. We know we face challenges with the institutional discrimination that remains today, in housing, addiction and education. We will continue to work on these issues in Native communities. If anywhere in the nation we can make progress on these very challenging issues, it’s us. We have an incredible heritage of tribal communities who have been groundbreaking and leading this state long before my ancestors were here. Going forward, we have a lot of healing to do, but today we are here to celebrate. Today we are here to honor. Today we are here to say Indigenous Peoples’ Day is more than just a day, it’s every day.”
Lunch, consisting of salmon chowder, frybread, and a healthy fruit salad, was served to all those in attendance.
Following lunch, a very passionate, keynote speech was given by Winona LaDuke. She is a member of the Anishinaabe nation from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota and is renowned for her activism on behalf of indigenous people and the environment. She is also a two-time Green Party vice presidential candidate.
“What a great day it is. It is so happy, so liberating,” marveled LaDuke. “On our march here I noticed ‘Columbus Day Sale’ signs in the windows of some stores, and I was thinking does that mean I can walk around those stores and take whatever I want?”
“It is so liberating for me to be here and celebrate with you all in just how awesome it is be Indigenous people. You know, it’s always perplexed me how someone can name something as large as a mountain or sea or an entire day after someone as small as a human. It changes how people view things when everything is named after all these white guys. We are just beginning. There is a lot of work ahead in the renaming and recovering and restoration of our homelands. In doing so we remember our ancestors. In doing this we honor all those before us, all those here, and all those yet to come. And we reaffirm our place here as a people who remember, as a people who do not suffer from historic amnesia. We are a people who live today in a civil society who knows where it is exactly and is willing to be healthy, healthy and beautiful.”
“We are living proof that it is possible to live in a worldview that does not include empire, the destruction of our Mother Earth, and being ran by the morally corrupt oil and pharmaceutical companies,” continued LaDuke to a crown of cheering Native community members and supporters. “As we open our minds here I’m really honored to be with you in Seattle, a place that is in process of deconstructing the colonial renaming of our mountains, rivers, and oceans. I have great admiration and respect to y’all out here for standing up in what you know is true and being here to celebrate this great day.”
There was an evening celebration held at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center that consisted in Native and Indigenous people from all over the nation performing their cultural songs and dances, not entertainment, but to celebrate each other. Celebration in recognition of a day that not only provides us with a platform to raise awareness, but it also commemorates a history of survival and perseverance.
For the 2015 edition of Best of Seattle, the Seattle Weekly staff looked back on the past year and selected the five innovations that we feel will do the most to make our city better. This is one of them. To read the rest of Seattle’s Best Ideas, go here.
When I call Matt Remle, he asks me to hold on for a second.
“I’m doing homework with my boy; I just have to tell him he gets a free break for a minute,” he says, chuckling. Remle, a Lakota man and the Native American Liaison at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, is often in the midst of homework, whether he’s helping students or his children or doing it for his own edification. As a Seattle correspondent and editor for the indigenous online news outlet Last Real Indians, he often digs deep into history. He aims to make connections to the present day in an attempt to tell stories that span centuries instead of moments, he says. In his mind, learning and telling stories about one’s ancestors is a necessary pursuit.
It’s a view he sees slowly trickling into the mainstream here in Seattle. “I think non-Natives are looking for a different voice and a different perspective,” he says.
Later today, Remle will visit Seattle City Hall to start planning the 2015 Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration, a very new Seattle holiday he was instrumental in creating. Last September, Remle wrote the resolution and led the campaign to replace Columbus Day in Seattle with Indigenous Peoples’ Day—a motion unanimously passed in October by the Seattle City Council. During the campaign, Remle weathered personal attacks and phone calls from outraged opponents who claimed replacing Columbus Day was “focusing on the negative” and “preposterous.” The most intense opposition came from local Italian-heritage groups.
A drum circle gathered outside City Hall before the first hearing for the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution. GIF by Kelton Sears
During one of the initial September committee hearings on the resolution, Sons of Italy member Tony Anderson told the City Council, “I pray you observe the same courage Columbus did in that summer of 1492.”
The request was a curious one given the grisly history that Remle soon shared with the Council, which came from Columbus’ own journals.
The explorer’s records, along with the writings of the crew and the Spanish friar Bartolomé de las Casas who accompanied Columbus on that fateful voyage, detailed firsthand accounts of their brutal acts. Remle told of the enslavement, rape, torture, and genocide of the Arawak people they encountered in the summer of 1492. Beheadings of young boys “for fun”; lurid blow-by-blow tales of forced sex with 9- and 10-year-old girls, the casual day-to-day dismemberment of dozens of Arawak simply “to test the sharpness of their swords.” The list goes on. By the end of it, 80 percent of the Arawak people had been killed. These clearly were not the stories Anderson had heard.
He, like the rest of Americans who go to public school, was likely taught the cute rhyme most of us know: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The explorer met the “Indians,” “discovered” America, and brought back gold. He was a hero, the father of the great “New World.” As Anderson understood it, Columbus was courageous.
During Remle’s recitation of Columbus’ acts, one man at the committee hearing screamed, threw his hands up, and left the room. “That’s insulting! I’ve had it!” As the meeting adjourned, the same man cornered Remle in the council chambers and told him he should “get some education” and that his comments about Columbus were derogatory to Italians.
“When you question the prevailing narrative, people have this angry reaction,” Remle tells me. “For me, personally, when I started learning these histories that are swept under the rug and not taught, I was kind of pissed. I felt lied to. Maybe bringing the Native history in will open peoples’ eyes that there is another narrative out there.”
In the past year, people in Seattle, and in Washington at large, have also started to realize that, maybe, the stories they’ve heard about the places we live and the people that came before us aren’t the whole picture. Seattle’s historic passage of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a celebrated international victory, making headlines in Europe and Canada—but it was met with some skepticism. A recurring question: Isn’t Columbus Day a trivial holiday anyways? Who cares?
If it actually was trivial, the passage of Indigenous Peoples’ Day probably wouldn’t have set off the wave of outraged and openly racist Internet comments, radio talk, and media coverage that it did. According to Tulalip Senator John McCoy, part of America’s difficulty with confronting its colonial history is that it’s ugly. Listening to indigenous stories is hard for non-Natives.
“A lot of the things that have happened to tribes, since European contact to today, are not pleasant,” McCoy says. “A lot of history books only talk about how the ‘bad’ Indians fought the settlers trying to tame the Wild West. But the Indians had to protect their land, their resources, because these folks were actually invaders. They weren’t explorers or pioneers, they were invading a country, a territory. Granted, there are some tribes that didn’t do nice things. But I always say that when you teach history, you have to teach the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
In 2005, McCoy, a member of the Tulalip tribe and the only Native in the Washington state senate, sponsored a bill mandating that Native history be taught in public schools. To his dismay, at the last minute, the legal language was changed from “mandatory” to “encouraged.” It took him 10 years of educating his fellow senators to muster the votes for a mandatory tribal-history bill—which he finally achieved this March in the landmark SB5433 (passed 42-7), making Washington the only state in the union besides Montana to require such instruction.
“I have a fellow Democrat, I won’t say who, that always fought me over tribal sovereignty,” McCoy says. “I got up to give my floor speech, and about a third of the way through, because he didn’t sit far from me, I actually heard him say ‘Oh, now I understand.’ ”
In addition to authoring legislation, McCoy also helped develop “Since Time Immemorial,” a free tribal-history curriculum with the help of Denny Hurtado, the now-retired director of Indian Education for the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Together, McCoy and Hurtado, who is of the Skokomish people, cover everything from the Coast Salish economies and governance systems before European contact and the early Indian boarding schools that forced cultural assimilation on tribal youth, through treaty-making, treaty-breaking, tribal sovereignty, and Indian relocation, all the way up to today’s urban Native issues, including indigenous activists’ increasingly vital role in environmental actions. In teaching Native history, the hope is that students will start to understand and recognize that there is also a Native present, that indigenous people aren’t just mythic figures in a fuzzy “pilgrims and Indians” past, but active participants alongside non-Natives in the crucial stories we are still writing—stories that directly affect everybody.
The ShellNo protest on May 16 was one of the most visible, widely covered environmental actions in the Pacific Northwest in decades, a feat for an area that’s long characterized itself as an aspiring ecotopia. The vivid pictures of the colorful kayaks rowing out to protest the imposing Shell Polar Pioneer rig set to drill in the Arctic captured the imagination of people from around the world who read headlines about “The Paddle in Seattle.” But it was the juxtaposition of the assembled, mostly white environmental groups with the fleet of traditional wooden canoes of the Lummi and Duwamish that cut the most striking image—a powerful flotilla led by the area’s original inhabitants.
“That’s the way it should go,” Duwamish Tribal Chair Cecile Hansen says. “If [environmental activists] are going to involve the Natives, they should be in the forefront.”
Idle No More, the indigenous activist organization that led the flotilla, gave the ShellNo action the spiritual weight that made it so resonant. Indigenous involvement reframed the discussion from an abstract issue about climate change to a concrete discussion that indigenous people have been trying to start for 500 years: the ongoing pattern of colonization and destruction committed in the name of resource extraction.
To Idle No More’s Washington state director Sweetwater Nannauck, the Tlingit/Haida/Tsimshian woman who organized the ShellNo action, it’s not a coincidence that Shell’s oil rig perched in the sacred Salish Sea was called “the Polar Pioneer.” “I was like, really?” she says, laughing quietly. “That’s what they named it? It continues the same old thing—another ship has come in. So that’s why I say it’s important for us to heal that, my work is as a healer. We’re both active participants in healing, the colonized and the colonizers too. The thing people are starting to see is, the original colonizers have become colonized—now it’s corporate colonization.”
Idle No More has reinvigorated the fight for climate justice in the state by making this very obvious but historically overlooked connection—environmentalists and indigenous activists are essentially fighting the same fight. The problem is that environmentalists have long tokenized Natives in the discussion, painting them as mystical Earth people—archetypal symbols from an imagined past—rather than actively engaging with them as people who exist in the present. Examples abound, from the famous 1970s “Keep America Beautiful” PSA featuring the iconic “crying Indian” (who was portrayed by an Italian actor) to the frequent citation of a moving environmental speech given by Chief Seattle in 1854: a speech that, oddly enough, references trains that wouldn’t be built until years later—perhaps because it was actually written in 1971 by a screenwriter from Texas.
Sweetwater Nannauck at ShellNo. Photo by Alex Garland
“A lot of the times, these organizations think allyship means ‘We’re going to organize everything, and we want you to send a couple of Natives to sing and dance and drum for us,’ ” Nannauck says. “That’s tokenism. I’m about authentically led Native action—we organize it. In the workshops I teach—which a lot of organizers like 350 Seattle, Rising Tide, Greenpeace, and Raging Grannies that participated in ShellNo have taken from me—I teach how to work with Native people, the history of colonization, and how that colonization continues to affect us today.”
“It was always very iffy for tribes to work with environmental organizations because these organizations were arrogant,” says Annette Klapstein, who participated in the ShellNo flotilla as part of the Seattle Raging Grannies. “They would tell tribes what to do, which didn’t go over very well. This new alliance, based on respect and understanding, is so important because these different groups’ goals are much the same, and we are so much more powerful together.”
In late October when the state held a hearing in Olympia to discuss the the impact that oil transport through the Northwest might have, Nannauck contacted the Nisqually, whose land would be most impacted, and organized a rally at the Capitol. After taking her Idle No More education workshops, in which Nannauck teaches non-Native activists how to respectfully work alongside Natives, organizers from the local environmental groups knew to contact the tribes first, asking if Idle No More had organized anything and if they could participate, rather than vice versa. The event was led with Native prayer and drumming that Nannauck and the tribes organized themselves, and Natives made the first testimonies at the rally, which eventually swelled to 350 people.
“I told Sweetwater this later,” Remle says. “ShellNo was one of the first actions of that size where I saw mainstream environmentalists take a back seat and let canoes and local tribes take the lead. It was pretty amazing to see.”
The most important component of Nannauck’s Idle No More workshops is communicating why indigenous activism differs from non-Native activism. Yes, both are fighting for the same goal, but there is a discernible difference in approach. Nannauck doesn’t even call what she does “activism.” Nor does Remle. They call it “protecting the sacred.” The ShellNo story wasn’t the typical angry diatribe pointed at distant oil corporations. As Nannauck puts it, the story that the ShellNo action told was about humanity’s obligation to protect the sacred Salish Sea.
“The work I’m doing is educating both Natives and non-Natives about how the cultural and spiritual work has much more of an impact, not only on the Earth, but because we need to heal ourselves,” Nannauck says. “What people need to understand is that the Earth is just a reflection of us, and that what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves too. I try to educate them about our traditional ways and how that spiritual foundation is what motivates us.”
Nannauck ends her workshops by asking participants about their ancestors. Where did they come from? Did they benefit from the land grabs when they came to America? Were they also oppressed? If you go far back, were they colonized too? These are questions and stories non-Native audiences often haven’t considered. It’s hard to consider stories you didn’t know existed.
“A lot of people start crying because they can feel it,” Nannauck says. “Acknowledging that historical trauma, it’s kind of like a spiritual revival. It’s starting in the Northwest. I believe that’s what’s going on right now. I feel like what we’re doing here, what we’re starting here, could be replicated in other places. It’s not all negative—it’s about healing. It’s about the power of our spirit and our connection.”
On October 6, 2014, in a packed Seattle city hall council chambers room, the Seattle city council voted unanimously to rename the second Monday in October, the federal holiday Columbus Day, to Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the city of Seattle. The room erupted in emotion with loud cheers, the sound of drums and the sight of over joyed, smiling and crying faces followed by an impromptu singing of the AIM song in the halls of Seattle city hall.
The Seattle city council vote followed the previous weeks unanimous vote by the Seattle school board to both establish the second Monday in October as a day of observance for Indigenous Peoples’ and to make a board commitment to the teaching of tribal history, culture, governance and current affairs into the Seattle public schools system.
The origins for both the Seattle city council and Seattle school board resolutions date back to 2011, when I was attending an Abolish Columbus Day rally in downtown Seattle. As I was listening to the beautiful songs of a local canoe family, I started thinking about South Dakota and their successful effort to change Columbus Day to Native American Day. That night I decided to contact members of the Seattle city council, as well as, my local State Legislatures to see if they might be willing to do something similar on either the City or State level.
To my surprise, the following morning I got a phone call from Washington State Senator Margarita Prentice and proceeded to have a long conversation about the genocide brought by Columbus to our Native relatives in the Caribbean and how she would love to sponsor a resolution on the State level. She simply asked that I draft a resolution and seek support from area tribes first before she would sponsor the resolution.
Elated, I immediately contacted Theresa Sheldon and Deborah Parker from Tulalip, who were both policy analyst for the Tulalip Tribes at that time, and whom currently sit on the Tulalip Board of Directors, to let them know the news. They agreed to take the resolution to the 2011 Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians annual conference and put the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution before the conference for a vote. The resolution was unanimously approved, and although the resolution ultimately did not succeed on the State level, the seeds of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution for Seattle were sown.
When Minneapolis approved its Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution in the early spring of 2014, I figured now might be a good time to revive our efforts in Seattle especially given that we had two new Seattle city council members who had been responsive to the needs and issues of Seattle’s Native community. I again reached out to the Seattle city council members and before the day was over council member Kshama Sawant responded back that she would sponsor an Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution and asked if I would draft one for her.
I drafted a resolution and sent it out to other members of Seattle’s Native community for additional input. From there a grassroots effort was underway to build broad base support for the resolution. By the time the resolution was presented to the Seattle city council for vote, we gained the endorsement of forty various community organizations, non-profits, human rights organizations, local and national tribal organizations and letters of support from numerous area tribes.
In drafting the resolution, one thought was that we should be pushing for something more than just the renaming of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, so language was included to have the Seattle city council “encourage” the Seattle public schools to adopt the guidelines established by the 2005 H.B. 1495 and the subsequent Since Time Immemorial Tribal Sovereignty curriculum [STI] that was developed out of it.
Many within the Native community had tried for years to get the Seattle public schools to adopt the STI curriculum, but had always been met with resistance. We figured if we could get the Seattle city council to pass a resolution calling on the school district to adopt the curriculum, we would have good leverage to pressure the school board to adopt it.
Over the summer, a letter was sent to the Seattle school board from the Seattle Human Rights Commission, an early resolution backer, to inform them of the efforts being worked on with the Seattle city council surrounding the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution and to encourage them to align efforts with the city to meet the goals of the proposed resolution.
In late July, I was contacted by the Seattle city council and was told that they were ready to put the resolution to the full council for vote. I was given two possible dates to introduce the resolution, one in August and one in September. Since the September date fell on the day before school started in the Seattle area, we went for the September date knowing that we would most likely generate wide-spread media attention and given that Columbus is often one of the things students learn about first, we figured this would be a good strategy to get the evils committed by Columbus on the minds of students.
Up until the September 2, Seattle city council hearing we largely kept the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution from the media spotlight. Days before the council meeting we released a press release on the Last Real Indians webpage, whom I am write for. The idea was that we would be asserting our voice on this issue and establish the framework for which the issue would be discussed on our own terms. As the massive rally descended upon the Seattle city council hearing on September 2, the mainstream press was playing a game of catch up on our resolution that had already generated Turtle Island-wide buzz amongst Native communities.
While a decision was made on September 2 to hold the vote off until October 6, we were able to secure the endorsement of Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray a generated nationwide attention on our Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution.
Throughout September, we keep up a steady stream of pressure on both the Seattle city council and Seattle school board with emails, petitions, phone calls, and letters of endorsement from area Tribes and other supporters, as well as, built broad support through social media campaigning.
For me personally, it was phenomenal to see such a concerted and collaborative joint effort develop between Seattle’s urban Native community, Tribe’s and Tribal leaders. By time the October 1 Seattle school board vote and the October 6 Seattle city council vote came around a true urban and Tribal partnership was firmly established. The Seattle city council vote saw testimony given from tribal leaders David Bean (Puyallup), Fawn Sharp (President of both the Quinualt Indian Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians), Mel Sheldon (former Chair of the Tulalip Tribes), as well as, numerous members of Seattle’s urban Native community.
Throughout the whole process, we keep the perspective that we are simply part of a larger movement being fought on the local grassroots level to not only abolish Columbus Day, but see our communities rise up and assert our own voices on our own terms on issues of importance to us.
We sought to show the power our communities possess when we come together unified under the belief and knowledge that what we do today is both work to heal past generations and lift the spirits of our future generations.
Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Matt Remle (Lakota) lives in Seattle. He works for the office of Indian Education in the Marysville/Tulalip school district. He is a writer for Last Real Indians @ www.lastrealindians.com and runs an online Lakota language program at www.LRInspire.com. He is a father of three and the author of Seattle’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution.
The Seattle City Council has voted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same day as the federally recognized holiday, Columbus Day.
The resolution that passed unanimously Monday honors the contributions and culture of Native Americans and the indigenous community in Seattle. Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be celebrated on the second Monday in October.
Tribal members and other supporters say the move recognizes the rich history of people who have inhabited the area for centuries.
“This action will allow us to bring into current present day our valuable and rich history, and it’s there for future generations to learn,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation on the Olympic Peninsula. She is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.
“Nobody discovered Seattle, Washington,” she said to a round of applause.
Several Italian-Americans and others objected to the move, saying Indigenous Peoples’ Day honors one group while disregarding the Italian heritage of others.
Columbus Day is a federal holiday that commemorates the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who was Italian, in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492. It’s not a legal state holiday in Washington.
“We don’t argue with the idea of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We do have a big problem of it coming at the expense of what essentially is Italian Heritage Day,” said Ralph Fascitelli, an Italian-American who lives in Seattle, speaking outside the meeting.
“This is a big insult to those of us of Italian heritage. We feel disrespected,” Fascitelli said. He added, “America wouldn’t be America without Christopher Columbus.”
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is expected to sign the resolution Oct. 13, his spokesman Jason Kelly said.
The Bellingham City Council also is concerned that Columbus Day offends some Native Americans. It will consider an ordinance Oct. 13 to recognize the second Monday in October as Coast Salish Day.
The Seattle School Board decided last week to have its schools observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same day as Columbus Day. Earlier this year, Minneapolis also decided to designate that day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. South Dakota, meanwhile, celebrates Native American Day.
Seattle councilmember Bruce Harrell said he understood the concerns from people in the Italian-American community, but he said, “I make no excuses for this legislation.” He said he co-sponsored the resolution because he believes the city won’t be successful in its social programs and outreach until “we fully recognize the evils of our past.”
Councilmember Nick Licata, who is Italian-American, said he didn’t see the legislation as taking something away, but rather allowing everyone to celebrate a new day where everyone’s strength is recognized.
David Bean, a member of the Puyallup Tribal Council, told councilmembers the resolution demonstrates that the city values tribal members’ history, culture, welfare and contributions to the community.
The City of Seattle is soon expected to abolish Columbus Day and make the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Jeff Reading, communications director for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, said the City Council’s vote on the change is timed so Murray can sign the resolution on October 13. Reading said there will be cultural celebration at the signing, and indigenous leaders will be invited to speak.
Tulalip Tribes Council member Theresa Sheldon said it’s past time to stop honoring Christopher Columbus, whose exploration of the Caribbean for Spain included enslavement, rape, mutilation and murder.
“On behalf of all our indigenous and non-indigenous ancestors who established the United States of America, it’s a true blessing and about time that all citizens of [the] USA and the City of Seattle support the changing of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day,” Sheldon said.
“Columbus fed newborn babies to his dogs. He cut off the hands of the indigenous people if they refused to be his slave[s] … [He] started a sex trade of 10- to 12-year-old girls for men of privilege to rape.”
She added, “The notion that these Indigenous Peoples had no rights under the Spanish king and their religion, so these acts of terror were acceptable, is completely un-American. We would never support such a villain today. This is the first step in correcting the true history of the United States and recognizing the serious wrongs that were done to a beautiful and loving people, the indigenous people of the [Caribbean].”
Matt Remle, a Hunkpapa Lakota educator and writer, lobbied the Seattle City Council to abolish Columbus Day and establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day, winning the co-sponsorship of council members Bruce Harrell and Kshama Sawant. The council was expected to approve the resolution at its September 2 meeting, but held off because the mayor is required to sign resolutions within 10 days of approval and Murray wants to sign it on October 13.
Remle said the resolution is supported and/or endorsed by 12 organizations and government agencies, including the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Seattle Human Rights Commission, the Northwest Indian Bar Association, the Swinomish Tribe, the Tulalip Tribes, and the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.
Remle said he hopes the resolution will “strongly encourage” Seattle Public Schools to adopt indigenous history curricula, as recommended in 2005 by state House Bill 1495 sponsored by Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip; will encourage businesses, organizations and public institutions to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day; and will help promote the well-being and growth of Seattle’s indigenous community.
When signed, Seattle will be one of a growing number of local and state governments to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Others include the California cities of Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and Sebastopol; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Dane County, Wisconsin; and the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota. Iowa, Nevada and Oklahoma do not observe Columbus Day; most indigenous nations in Oklahoma observe Native American Day instead of Columbus Day.
Remle first tried to get the Seattle City Council to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2010 or 2011. “The City Council at that time was unresponsive,” he said. His efforts attracted the attention of Margarita Lopez Prentice, who represented parts of Seattle and five neighboring cities in the state Senate. She tried to get a similar measure approved on the state level—at her urging, Remle got a draft resolution endorsed by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians—but she couldn’t get enough votes for approval in the legislature.
Remle said the effort was re-sparked in April this year when the Minneapolis City Council approved a resolution abolishing Columbus Day and establishing Indigenous Peoples’ Day “to better reflect the experiences of American Indian people and uplift our country’s Indigenous roots, history, and contributions.”
“Part of what we’re pushing for is we want a true and accurate history of [Indigenous Peoples] taught in our schools,” said Remle, the Native American liaison in the Marysville School District near Tulalip.
His daughter attends Chief Sealth High School in Seattle, named for the 19th century leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish peoples and first signer of the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott, which made a large chunk of western Washington available for non-Native settlement.
And yet, “there’s zero mention” in the school’s curriculum of the indigenous history of the region, Remle said. According to the school’s course catalog, a course in U.S. history gives “special attention … to the impact of western expansion on Native American cultures and patterns of migration in the late 1800s.” A History of the Americas course “investigates major themes in portions of the history of North America, the Caribbean, and South America such as independence movements, leadership, and domestic policy in the first year.” A World History course begins with a look “at the global convergence that begins around 1450 and is symbolized by the journey of Christopher Columbus.”
For more than a century, Native Americans have attended schools where the common curriculum repeats “myriad myths and historical lies that have been used through the ages to dehumanize Indians, justifying the theft of our lands, the attempted destruction of our nations and the genocide against our people,” as stated in a 1991 American Indian Movement position statement about Columbus Day. Such teachings have done little to close the achievement gap among Native American students, eliminate stereotypes, and build multicultural awareness.
On the other hand, Remle has seen positive results from the accurate presentation of indigenous history and cultures—cultures that are thriving.
In the district where he works, which is attended by students from the Tulalip Tribes, the on-time graduation rate for Native American students 10 years ago was 35 percent. Since the Marysville School District chose to teach curriculum developed as part of House Bill 1495, that rate is now in the upper 80s and 90s, Remle said.
Another area school is seeing similar success. Chief Kitsap Academy, which is operated by the Suquamish Tribe under a government-to-government agreement with the North Kitsap School District, was one of four district schools or programs—out of 15—to meet math and reading achievement levels required by the No Child Left Behind Act.
And from 1993-96, all students at Seattle’s American Indian Heritage Early College High School graduated and went on to college. Enrollment declined in the ensuing years after the school district merged it with another program, funding was reduced and the district made plans to demolish the school and build a new middle school campus in its place. Plans to demolish the school were rolled back after the city declared it a historical landmark. Advocates are now working on revitalizing the Indian Heritage School program.
View the City of Seattle’s resolution on the city’s website.
SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council will vote Oct. 6 whether to celebrate “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” on the same day as the Columbus Day holiday.
A council committee met Wednesday and advanced the resolution that would recognize the day on the second Monday in October in Seattle.
“We know Columbus Day is a federal holiday, we are not naive about that, but what we can do and what you have seen is a movement,” said Matt Remle, supporter of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day designation.
During the committee meeting, Italian Americans expressed their concerns. Many of them support Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but believe it should not replace Columbus Day.
“For most Italian Americans, Columbus Day is a symbol of pride in our heritage,” said Audrey Manzanares.
Many of those who spoke to the council committee did not attend the first hearing. In early September, the council delayed the decision.
As the council considers the change, Seattle Public Schools is in a similar situation.
District leaders were scheduled to discuss recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day at a board meeting Wednesday night.
“The city and a few other organizations have put it forward to us and requested our alignment in this work,” said Shauna Heath, of Seattle Public Schools.
Supporters of the measure expect the City Council to pass it.
“Hopefully, we will get a unanimous vote and honor native people, indigenous peoples, in this area,” said Remle.
SEATTLE — On Tuesday the Seattle City Council decided to postpone its vote to rename Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day until October 13 so that the mayor and other elected officials can hold a signing ceremony.
Several dozen American Indian supporters gathered at Seattle City Hall’s steps in support of the name change with drumming and speeches.
The effort to do away with Columbus Day was led by Matt Remie, Ethel Branch and others in Seattle’s Native community. This group influenced the Seattle Human Rights Commission to push through a resolution on July 24, 2014.
“This is simply nothing more than respect and honor for the First People of this land. As this moves forward, I have no doubt whatsoever that the Council and Mayor will be amazed by the strength and power that comes from the original People of this land. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new chapter and a new partnership,” commented Chris Stearns (Navajo), attorney and past Chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission to Native News Online late Tuesday.
The resolution that made its way to the City Council was led by Council Members Bruce Harrell and Kshama Sawant. Mayor Ed Murray is in full support of the renaming.
Seattle Native community
Columbus Day dates back to 1892 when President Harrison made a proclamation observing a day set aside to celebrate Christopher Columbus. It has been a federal holiday since 1937.