Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day — completely, Illinois coalition urges
Les Begay, co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Day Coalition of Illinois, said he doesn’t want to share the holiday with Columbus anymore.
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 completely renamed to 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.
In 2017, 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.
Begay said the state’s Indigenous community wasn’t consulted on the matter.
A bill in the Illinois House proposed last year that would swap Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day has not advanced. Similar efforts at the city and county levels do not have the votes needed to pass the measures, Begay said.
While those efforts were opposed by Italian Americans, the Cook County effort faced objections from Black descendants of those who had been enslaved by major Native American tribes who say the tribes needed to do more to acknowledge the history.
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 already 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 after several activists with a bullhorn and a grievance with the leadership of the Indigenous Peoples Day Coalition interrupted the event.
Begay said Preckwinkle and Gov. J.B. Pritzker support changing the name of Columbus Day. 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.
Louis Rago, president of the Italian American Human Relations Foundation of Chicago, claimed there are already multiple days allowing for the celebration of Indigenous peoples, including National American Indian Heritage month in November.
“How many more Indigenous Peoples Days do we need?” he told the Sun-Times Monday.
Rago also disagreed with the especially negative historical characterization that Columbus has faced in recent years, but said he’s open to debate the history of the Italian explorer.