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Native Americans will share a day with Columbus

As a small step toward righting historic injustices and correcting the historical record, the Ashland will recognize Indigenous People’s Day along with Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.

For centuries, school children have been taught Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492, a couplet that ends up having more rhyme than reason, as the supposed discovery glosses over the millions of Native Americans already present in what was supposedly “undiscovered” land. What is now Oregon would not be “discovered” by European descendants until close to the 16th century.

Either way, tribal members pointed out in a session before the Ashland City Council, it’s a European view of the continent and its history.

Lupe Sims, who identifies as a White Mountain Apache and is the founder of Indigenous People’s Day at Southern Oregon University, pointed out the land did not need discovering.

“How is it possible to discover a land already inhabited by an advanced society?” asked Sims, who spoke to the council on Aug. 1 in favor of designating the day formerly recognized only as Columbus Day.

“Currently we are an excluded people,” said David West, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a professor emeritus of Native American studies at SOU. “... . Why do we keep teaching something that’s not a truth?”

West urged the council not to stop at the holiday designation.

“Where are the native people represented in Ashland?" he asked. "This is an opportunity for education. “They may have been here 12(000) or 14,000 years. Isn’t it time they are recognized?”

West referenced archeological discoveries that date human habitation in Oregon as early as 13,200 years ago.

“The city of Ashland is built on tribal land. We should use the day to tell the whole story of Columbus and to acknowledge the contribution of indigenous people,” said Brook Colley, a native studies professor at SOU and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. She opened her testimony using the Cherokee language.

Colley said Oregon is at a tipping point in acknowledging its history, noting the Portland City Council unanimously acknowledged Indigenous People’s Day in 2015.

The movement away from Columbus Day, which became a U.S. holiday in 1937, began in 1977 when the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations suggested scrapping Columbus Day. Berkeley, California, picked up the idea in 1992 and it continues to have momentum.

The states of Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska and South Dakota do not note Columbus Day as an official holiday. The city of Ashland has joined the list in recognizing Indigenous People’s Day, but is not removing Columbus Day from recognition. This resulted in an exchange between Councilor Traci Darrow and Dan Wahpepah of Red Earth Descendants.

“Why do we need to continue honoring someone who landed in the Caribbean?" Wahpepah asked. "The story is not true.”

Darrow responded, “Because this is part of our history, too. Maybe to acknowledge that it’s not true.”

The resolution proposed by Councilor Dennis Slattery and seconded by Stefani Seffinger was approved unanimously by the City Council.

The resolution, in part, says, "The City Council honors the fact that the community of Ashland is built upon the traditional homelands of the Takelma, Shasta and Klamath Basin peoples. The City of Ashland is committed to protecting and advocating for justice, human rights, and the dignity of all people who live, work and visit in Ashland, and to supporting the principles contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.