Second Monday in October is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington

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Agnes Woodward, a Cree from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, who now lives in Bloomington, returns to her seat after speaking to the city council during public commentary in support of declaring Indigenous People’s Day. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The second Monday in October is now recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington, Indiana. This year that’s Oct. 14.

The city council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution putting the day permanently on the calendar, after Mayor John Hamilton proclaimed last year’s Oct. 8 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

It doesn’t mean that city employees get another holiday. Rather, the resolution says it’s “an opportunity to celebrate the cultures and values that Indigenous Peoples of our region add to the communities in Bloomington, throughout Indiana, and globally.”

Bloomington is joining dozens of other locales, over the last couple of decades, in renaming the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The impetus for the focus on indigenous people, instead of Christopher Columbus, stems from the increasing recognition that European explorers, including Columbus, were guilty of “inhumane treatment of the native peoples,” as the resolution puts it.

To drive that point home on Wednesday night, councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith—who co-sponsored the resolution with Allison Chopra and Dorothy Granger—read aloud a portion of the diary kept by Columbus, quoted in Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”: “They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Councilmember Jim Sims said he supported the resolution and would have been happy to co-sponsor it. He drew his colleagues’ attention to one of the “Whereas” clauses, stressing one of the words: “…the City of Bloomington has a responsibility to oppose systemic racism toward Indigenous Peoples of the United States.”

Sims wondered if a better word than “oppose” would be “eliminate.” But he concluded that he was not sure the city has the capacity to achieve the elimination of racism. “Opposing” racism seemed like a good approach, Sims said, adding that he hopes we can work on eliminating it.

Columbus Day had already disappeared from the city’s official calendar. In 2016, the city government swapped in Fall Holiday for Columbus Day as the name of the day employees can take off in non-election years. (When there’s an Election Day, that’s the day employees get a holiday. In Indiana, non-election years come once every four years, when there’s not a presidential, mid-term, or municipal election.)

The move from Columbus Day to Fall Holiday, and last year’s mayoral proclamation, made Indiana University senior Caleb King, a Supiak from Anchorage Alaska, feel validated as an indigenous student. (The mayoral proclamation came about at least in part due to King’s efforts.) King told the council that when Bloomington had moved from Columbus Day to Fall Holiday, it made him feel validated and excited to be in a city where people are moving in a positive direction.

This resolution will mean a lot to indigenous students who are here now, and to those who will study here in the future, King told the council Wednesday night. King said that when he first arrived at Indiana University, the First Nations Educational & Cultural Center helped him feel validated.

The cultural center’s director, Nicky Belle, also addressed the council during time for public commentary on Wednesday. Belle thanked the council for the resolution, saying that it was part of the effort to chip away at 200 years worth of work in the opposite direction.

The mention of 200 years drew a response when councilmembers made their comments. Steve Volan said that through his work on the city’s bicentennial celebration, it was clear that more than 200 years worth of history needed to be contemplated.

Volan added that President William Henry Harrison might seem like he didn’t have much impact on American history, having died in office after just a month. But Harrison did have a significant impact—and not a good one—when he served as the Indiana territorial governor, Volan said.

Volan called Harriosn “as bloodthirsty as they come,” adding “[H]e’s not a man to be proud of anymore in our history.” He invited people to read “Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy” Volan called the change to Indigenous Peoples’ Day “good and right and necessary.”

Wearing a T-shirt that read, “Phenomenally Indigenous” Agnes Woodward, told the council that she is Cree from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan. Her husband is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes—he’s Arikara. (The other two tribes in the affiliation are the Mandan and Hidatsa.)

Woodward’s family has lived in Bloomington going on about three years—she thanked the council for making the second day of October Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It meant a lot for her children to have an opportunity to live in a city that acknowledges their history is meaningful, Woodward said.