Oberlin City Council unanimously voted to stop recognizing Columbus Day, replacing the federal holiday with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The Aug. 21 decision, which culminated after months of collaboration between the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee and City Council, made Oberlin the first city in Ohio to make the transition.
The committee is made up of Oberlin residents looking to celebrate indigenous resistance and fight current injustices. One way to do this is to recognize truths about Christopher Columbus, a controversial figure, whom historians often link to the transatlantic slave trade and genocide of the Hispaniola natives.
The resolution encourages businesses, organizations, and programs in the city, within the Oberlin school district and at Oberlin College to embrace Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Oberlin district’s curriculum will now include the history of indigenous peoples.
According to Council Member Sharon Pearson, members of the committee approached City Council over a year ago and briefly mentioned the resolution.
The resolution became a real possibility a few months ago, when the first City Council meeting on the subject was held at the beginning of the summer.
A total of three meetings were held before the final vote was conducted. Pearson said the results of the final vote were unsurprising, as the holiday change proposal had passed at the first two meetings as well.
Pearson added that only those in favor of the resolution attended the first two meetings. However, at the final conference, the council chambers were full, with community members and various representatives from across Northeastern Ohio both in favor and in opposition to the decision pouring out into the hall. Most of the attendees — even at the most intense gathering — encouraged the change, said Pearson.
“It’s taken a long time to make this change — a whole year or two here in Oberlin,” Pearson said. “A lot of it comes from the residents and the indigenous people we have in our city. No one said they didn’t want to see the change happen until our third meeting, and most of the opposition came from people outside of Oberlin.”
The movement to abolish Columbus Day began in 1977 at a United Nations- sponsored conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Fourteen years later, Berkeley, CA,
became the rst American city to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Pearson said the perspectives of Oberlin’s residents were what City Council considered most when coming to a decision.
“These are the people paying taxes and living here,” Pearson said. “They have the most important say.”
Some Italian-Americans in the area expressed how offended they were by council’s decision at the Aug. 21 meeting. They voiced that they weren’t opposed to the creation of the new holiday, but were insulted that a holiday celebrating a historical figure who shared their background would to be abolished.
Basil Russo, national president of the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA) and chairman of the Cleveland Columbus Day Parade Committee, referred to the resolution as “a subtle form of bigotry,” The Chronicle Telegram reported.
“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 and hearts of Italian-Americans, as well as people who truly embrace diversity.”
Pearson admitted she wasn’t aware that the Italian-American community viewed Columbus Day in celebration of their Italian heritage.
Pearson said she believes the resolution says a lot about the city and the students and faculty at the college.
“A lot of people are liberal and open- minded,” Pearson said. “They’re the ones to speak out the most. Some residents were offended by the action we took, but the opposing side was mostly quiet throughout the process.”
While Oberlin is a pioneer in Ohio for abolishing Columbus Day, Pearson emphasized the importance of not forgetting the meaning of the new holiday. “I think we tend to overemphasize being ‘the first,’” she said. “I just hope that fact doesn’t take away from what this holiday is truly about. It’s not just about being the first.”
Neighboring cities are moving in the same direction. According to Fox 8, Akron is on its way to becoming the second city in Ohio to implement the holiday change. It is expected that legislation will be introduced later this month.
In other parts of the country, the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day Aug. 30.