MOORHEAD — A nearly-full room erupted in applause Monday after the Moorhead City Council passed a resolution to recognize Indigenous People’s Day each year on the second Monday of October.

With the 7-1 vote, Moorhead joined a growing list of cities and states that celebrate the country’s first inhabitants on the same day as what’s federally recognized as Columbus Day, which this year falls on Oct. 14.

Some cities, like Grand Forks and Fargo, have replaced Columbus Day, but Moorhead doesn’t officially celebrate the federal holiday, and neither does the state of Minnesota. Other Minnesota cities of Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Red Wing have passed their own resolutions to celebrate Indigenous people.

Moorhead’s resolution to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day originated in the Moorhead Human Rights Commission with member Heather Keeler, who helped spread the word persuading people to attend the city council meeting.

Heather Keeler, a member of the Moorhead Human Rights Commission, speaks during a City Council meeting Monday, July 22, in City Hall to add Indigenous People’s Day to what is federally recognized as Columbus Day. 
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Heather Keeler, a member of the Moorhead Human Rights Commission, speaks during a City Council meeting Monday, July 22, in City Hall to add Indigenous People’s Day to what is federally recognized as Columbus Day.  Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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“I think it’s extremely important for our history to be heard,” Keeler said during her presentation to the city council.

Ahead of the Monday evening council meeting, about 40 people met outside city hall for a smudging — which is a sacred Indigenous ceremony involving the burning of plants such as sage and tobacco — and a blessing led by Willard Yellow Bird, a spiritual leader and the vice chair of Moorhead's human rights commission.

“Creator, give us your blessing today and give us your strength,” he said. “We call upon the city to help our people and our Indigenous people today.”

Inside the council meeting, nearly every chair was full as proponents of the resolution came to show their support.

Almost every seat was taken at the Moorhead City Council meeting Monday.
Mike Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Almost every seat was taken at the Moorhead City Council meeting Monday. Mike Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

One attendee, Whitney Fear, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said it’s important for Indigenous people to feel included in the community.

“It’s not quite enough to say let’s not celebrate Columbus Day anymore, because that’s apathetic about making a real change,” said Fear, who is also a member of the Native American commission in Fargo. “There were people living here for millions of years before any immigrant came here . . . We were here; we always existed here.”

Council member Steve Gehrtz voted against the measure, noting his hesitancy to set a precedent and because the community already celebrates Cultural Diversity Day on Oct. 12.

Council member Steve Gehrtz voted against the measure to recognize Indigenous People's Day at the Moorhead City Council meeting Monday.
Mike Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Council member Steve Gehrtz voted against the measure to recognize Indigenous People's Day at the Moorhead City Council meeting Monday. Mike Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Council member Deb White, who voted in favor of the measure, said she’s proud to support it.

“I would look forward to a day when we start to run out of days because we spend so many days celebrating the great cultures in our community,” she said.