Indigenous peoples were celebrated Monday in Oberlin while much of the rest of the nation observed Columbus Day, marking the first year the city officially denounced the Italian explorer.
A cluster of people held signs on the corner of Main and East College streets, honoring the people who lived in the Americas for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.
Cindi Byron-Dixon, who fought for Oberlin to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day, hopes the new holiday is a step toward restorative justice for indigenous people.
“The biggest thing that I hope comes out of this is telling the truth and getting rid of the myths and lies that are embedded in our nation’s history,” she said.
Her great-great-grandmother hid her identity like many other Native Americans were forced to do. There was shame associated with her Mohawk heritage and forced assimilation pushed people to start over with a new identity.
“I do this in part to honor her because she couldn’t speak out,” Byron-Dixon said, holding back tears. “I just can’t hardly put into words how incredibly proud and blessed I am of the work that was done. This is is a great town and I hope this a beginning for change across the state and across the nation.”
In August, Oberlin city council unanimously passed a resolution to reject the federal holiday and embrace Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Observed the second Monday in October, the federal holiday has come to be regarded as problematic in recent decades.
Native American groups say putting Columbus on a pedestal means also embracing colonization, paying tribute to a man who promoted the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and honoring someone responsible for the genocide of indigenous people.
Italian-Americans see the move to nix the holiday as an offense to their ethnic heritage. Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1934 due to lobbying by the Knights of Columbus.
The largest annual community celebrations of Columbus Day have been in New York and San Francisco. Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont do not recognize the holiday; large cities including Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Austin have opted to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.