Group renews call for Columbus Day to become Indigenous Peoples Day

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Maritza Garcia dances a traditional Jingle Dress Dance on Monday at a rally for Indigenous Peoples Day at Pottawatomie Park.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

On Monday, the day that’s long been marked as Columbus Day on calendars around the country, a group of local leaders gathered at a North Side park to call for the holiday to be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day.

“We want to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Not share. Replace,” Les Begay, co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Day Coalition of Illinois, said Monday at a news conference at Pottawattomie Park in Rogers Park.

“It’s already a holiday. You don’t have to do anything. Just change the name,” said Begay, a member of the Dine Nation.

Various local and state recognitions of Indigenous Peoples Day are not enough, he said.

Les Begay, co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Day Coalition of Illinois, speaks at a rally at Pottawattomie Park about replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

In 2017, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day in Illinois on the last Monday in September as a commemorative observance, not a paid holiday for government workers.

But Begay said the state’s Indigenous community wasn’t consulted on the matter. 

A House bill proposed last year that would swap Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day has stalled. Similar efforts at the city and county levels do not yet have the votes needed to pass the measures, Begay said.

Begay said the group is not anti-Italian, just anti-Columbus, a historical figure who he says mistreated and enslaved people he encountered on his explorations.

Chicago Public Schools has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. 

President Joe Biden last year issued a proclamation to observe Indigenous Peoples Day alongside Columbus Day.

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates was at the news conference Monday to lend her support. 

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle attended but didn’t stay long because several activists with a bullhorn and a grievance over leadership of the co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Day Coalition interrupted the event.

Begay said Preckwinkle and Gov. J.B. Pritzker support changing the name of the holiday. He said the Coalition does not have the support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Representatives for Lightfoot, Pritzker and Preckwinkle didn’t return messages Monday.

Lightfoot has said she plans to return three statues of Columbus that were removed after protests. The timing of return of the statues, a hot-button issue, hasn’t been addressed.  

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, who has Italian roots, proposed choosing a different Italian historical figure to honor as a hero instead of Columbus.

“I know we can choose a hero who reflects our values and we can acknowledge someone who’s not a part of mass murder and genocide,” he said Monday.

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October 10, 2022 at 02:33PM

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