Indigenous Peoples’ Day passed by Oberlin council

The second Monday in October will no longer be recognized as Columbus Day in Oberlin.

In front of a wall-to-wall audience, city council voted Monday to change the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Eighth-grader Devon Schultz said he’ll be proud to go back to school this week and tell his friends “there is not a mass-murderer being celebrated in our fine city.”

Morning Dove Jean Simon, on behalf of the Indigenous People’s Day Committee, thanked the community for support during past three months as council has discussed whether explorer Christopher Columbus deserves to be remembered as a historical hero or a villain who committed genocide.

“We cannot remain invisible anymore,” Simon said. “We need to rise up and be fearless and the time for our healing is now. We thank you again, council. You hold the power in your hands and in your hearts.”

Several others in support of the movement expressed gratitude, including Sundance, executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, and Jeff Pierce, spokesman for the Ohio American Indian Movement.

Pierce offered to provide lesson plans he created to portray a more historically accurate version of Columbus. The resolution invites the city school district to include the history of indigenous peoples in curriculum.

Council’s decision left many in the audience disappointed, including resident Michael Palazzolo, who read the surnames of the 84 families of Italian origin in Oberlin.

Columbus Day is not a celebration of the explorer, but of Italian-American pride, he told council at the end of the list.

“Just like Irish-Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and everybody else because they go out and get drunk. And everybody celebrates Cinco de Mayo, it’s not just Mexican-Americans, everybody goes out and gets drunk,” Palazzolo said. “But Columbus Day is a day that Italian-Americans celebrate, not by going out and getting drunk but by spending time with their family.”

Basil Russo, chairman of the Cleveland Columbus Day Parade Committee and national president of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, said indigenous people should claim another day to celebrate their heritage.

“We simply want to express our pride in our heritage and we want to recognize the contribution and sacrifices that our ancestors made for us,” Russo said, noting the first Columbus Day parade was in the 1880s. “…All of a sudden somebody comes along and says, ‘You don’t have a right. We’re taking your day away from you. We’re going to give it to another group.’”

He questioned why council would choose to pit two minority groups against each other and called the resolution “a subtle form of bigotry.”

“In its misguided effort to portray Oberlin as a city of inclusion, all this city council will accomplish is to characterize Oberlin as a city of intolerance and exclusion,” Russo said. “That perception will remain firmly entrenched in the minds of Italian-Americans, as well as people who truly embrace diversity, for years to come.”

After an hour of public comments, council members were invited to share their opinions before finalizing a vote.

While explaining her support for the change, councilwoman Sharon Pearson quoted Martin Luther King Jr. “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” she said.

Councilwoman Linda Slocum said she was unaware that Columbus Day was such an identifying holiday for Italian-Americans. After much historical research, she came to the same conclusion.

“Columbus has enjoyed 500 years of praise, and it’s now time to shift the spotlight,” Slocum said.

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

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By Laurie Hamame