Matt Driscoll

Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day — and giving Columbus the boot — is the right call for Tacoma

Puyallup tribal member Nancy Shippentower and Nisqually Tribal Council members Hanford McCloud (left) and Willie Frank lll address the audience during the second annual Indigenous People’s Day event in October 2016 at Olympia’s Heritage Park. Tacoma is poised to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.
Puyallup tribal member Nancy Shippentower and Nisqually Tribal Council members Hanford McCloud (left) and Willie Frank lll address the audience during the second annual Indigenous People’s Day event in October 2016 at Olympia’s Heritage Park. Tacoma is poised to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. Olympian file photo

It’s about time.

This week, the Tacoma City Council is poised to do what Seattle, Spokane, Olympia and dozens of other jurisdictions across the country have already done — honor Native Americans and indigenous populations by officially creating Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Assuming a majority on the City Council approves the move Tuesday night, Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be observed in Tacoma on the second Monday of October “in perpetuity,” according to city records.

What goes unspoken, in city memos and the resolution itself, is of equal importance: Indigenous Peoples’ Day — as has been the trend across the country — will be celebrated in Tacoma on the same day as the federal Columbus Day holiday.

In that, the message is obvious, even if it’s not explicitly stated in the resolution.

“Clearly we picked the second Monday (of October) for a reason,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said. “I guess it’s never too late, but it is late. I’m glad we’re doing it now.”

Good.

It’s long past time for the explorer — who in 1492 sailed the ocean blue, as was drilled into our heads back in grade school — to get the boot.

It’s also long past time for Tacoma to finally recognize and honor the people who inhabited this place long before Columbus arrived and “discovered” anything.

In addition to the holiday declaration, the Puyallup Nation flag will be displayed in council chambers and eventually the bridge that extends into Fife via Puyallup Avenue will be renamed to honor the tribe in some fashion.

The gestures fit a recent effort designed to bolster the bond between the Puyallup Tribe and Tacoma.

“We are really trying to strengthen our relationship with the tribe,” said Woodards, citing things like the city’s recent participation in the annual Canoe Journey and the tribe’s participation in the subarea planning process for the Port of Tacoma.

“As a council, I feel like this is the most interaction we’ve had with the tribe,” Woodards added.

Strong relationships, of course, take work — and it’s probably accurate to describe the one between the Puyallup Tribe and the city a work in progress. While there have been a number of examples of Tacoma and the Puyallup Tribe coming together recently — and Tuesday night’s council meeting promises to provide another — issues of serious, contentious disagreement persist.

Most notably is Puget Sound Energy’s efforts to build a liquefied natural gas plant on the Tideflats — which the tribe strongly opposes.

A new holiday isn’t going to solve that one.

Still, as gestures go, creating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a pretty big deal, according to David Bean, vice chairman of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

Bean believes the respect it shows will help make future interactions — whether in agreement or disagreement — easier to navigate.

He said the move feels indicative of the progress he’s seen from both the tribe and Tacoma over the last decade as the two work to improve a relationship that, historically, often has been strained.

Celebrating Christopher Columbus, Bean said, meant observing a holiday honoring a man who “represents genocide and a massive land theft.”

“I think it’s an important step, getting on the right side of history,” Bean said. “Just in general, taking race out of it, who celebrates murderers or rapists in any society?

“When you really look at what (Columbus Day) represents, it’s celebrating a man who was obviously courageous in one respect but very destructive in another.”

Bean is 100 percent correct, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean we should expect everyone to welcome the move. As those who recall Seattle’s decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day back in 2014 will attest, feelings run strangely hot on the subject.

To some, moving away from Columbus Day will feel like an affront, even though it’s anything but. This isn’t about Italian culture or disrespecting anyone’s heritage, though some will surely paint the move in that light.

In reality, honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day is simply about paying respect to the original inhabitants of this place we now all call home. It’s also a recognition that there’s no reason — and certainly no need — to celebrate an explorer who “raped and pillaged” his way into the history books, as Bean put it.

More succinctly, honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Tacoma is about doing what’s right — at long last.

“This doesn’t correct history, but it starts to tell the real story,” Bean said. “It’s the beginning of a reconciliation and healing for a lot of folks.”

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