The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to defer a resolution that would change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, the second time a vote on the issue was delayed this year.
The resolution was viewed as a step toward reconciliation and healing for Native American communities, but it faced pushback on Tuesday from members of the county’s Italian American community, as well as Black descendants of those enslaved by the Native American tribes.
If passed, it would remove Columbus Day from the calendar and declare the second Monday in October “exclusively be recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in Cook County. Native Americans in the county make up the ninth largest Urban Native community in the U.S., the resolution said.
The resolution was initially debated in late May, but a vote was delayed after pushback from Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore, whose great-great-grandfather was a Choctaw Freedman.
In May, Moore said that despite his great-great-grandfather’s ties to the tribe, he has been denied recognition as a descendant. The denial prevents him and other freedmen’s descendants from accessing benefits exclusive to descendants of the tribe, such as education and housing assistance and casino profits.
Proponents of the resolution included organizations such as the Native American Rights Fund, Chicago NOW (National Organization for Women) and the Chicago Teachers Union, according to Rev. Erin James-Brown, who spoke in favor of the resolution. Chicago Public Schools voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day last year.
Those advocating to replace Columbus Day said it represents the genocide committed against Native peoples by white settlers and explorers like Columbus.
“Genocide, rape, murder, colonization, slavery. That’s the legacy of Columbus,” said Les Begay, a citizen of the Dine Nation. “We’re asking for recognition, we’re asking for reconciliation for the atrocities and the murders of the indigenous people.
But Italian Americans like Salvatore Camarda, the second vice president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said to them the holiday represents their Italian heritage, and the Italian community’s perseverance in the face of violence and discrimination. Camarda referenced the 1891 lynching of 11 Sicilian Americans in New Orleans, one of the deadliest lynchings in U.S. history.
“If any other groups want to have their own reconciliation day, there’s 364 other days in a calendar year, but do not attempt to take this day away with such a historic significance for 20 million Italian Americans in this country,” Camarda said.
But many activists questioned the motivations of those who opposed the holiday change, and said the resolution would be the first step in a long fight for reconciliation.
“This isn’t about heritage and culture, this is about power dynamics,” said Maria Acosta, speaking on behalf of the Illinois Poor People’s Campaign. “We celebrate a united rejection against white supremacy.”