GRAND FORKS — Indigenous Peoples' Day has replaced Columbus Day in Grand Forks.
A Monday night, July 15, vote by the Grand Forks City Council swapped the October holiday named after Columbus for one recognizing the indigenous people who lived here for millennia before the colonizer’s ships ever arrived in the Americas.
After a lengthy and at times emotional hearing the week before, the council’s final approval was almost anticlimactic — council members approved the swap within a broader slate of city business. Mayor Mike Brown announced it to the packed council chambers shortly after the unanimous round of “ayes,” and the room burst into a sustained round of applause.
“We are extremely grateful for tonight’s outcome,” said Courtney Davis Souvannasacd, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who helped organize the crowds that showed up to Monday’s decision and the hearing last week. “We hope to continue moving forward as a community and learning from one another.”
The resolution was approved as is, which means it retained language recognizing Columbus’ “violent and tragic mistreatment” of indigenous peoples and an official acknowledgment that closing the equity gap means government entities and other organizations should change their policies and practices to “better reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples” and acknowledge “the history of actions taken that created that gap.”
The resolution also urges other Grand Forks-area institutions — including UND and Grand Forks Public Schools — to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day. Lessons about Columbus have a reputation among American Indians for whitewashing his legacy, and Hillary Kempenich, another Turtle Mountain enrollee, said they can “ostracize” indigenous students. She said she hopes the council's decision is an inspiration for the school district.
City Council Member Katie Dachtler pushed for the move among council members. She spoke briefly outside city hall, telling a crowd of supporters that she was honored to be a part of the push for the resolution and was “really just a conduit” for it to come forward.
Council members last week, acting as the city’s Committee of the Whole, unanimously voted to forward the resolution replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day to the council proper. At that meeting, a series of public speakers outlined their case for the swap, pointing to the explorer's history of violence in the Caribbean or characterizing the holiday for indigenous people as an important step forward.
“Official holidays are a symbol of our shared values,” said Andrea Denault, a descendant of the Turtle Mountain band, after Monday’s final vote. “Venerating somebody that we know was a murderer and a pedophile and all these things are not reflective of shared values.”
The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe sent formal letters of support for the measure.
Several other municipalities have either established an Indigenous Peoples' Day of their own, no longer recognize Columbus Day, or both.
Not present at the Monday meeting was Council Member Sandi Marshall. Bret Weber participated via phone call.