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Debate over Columbus Day Name Continues in Red Wing

Updated: 02/04/2014 11:07 AM
Created: 02/04/2014 10:54 AM KSTP.com
By: Jennie Olson

The debate about whether Christopher Columbus should be celebrated is continuing in Red Wing.

The Red Wing City Council and Human Rights Commission met Monday for a joint workshop. Among the agenda items was a resolution to rename Columbus Day to First Peoples Day.

Five of the seven city council members were present for the workshop and discussed the resolution for about half an hour.

According to Commissioner Scott Bender, several of the council members supported the resolution but only with the consent of the Prairie Island Indian Community’s tribal council. If they get consent from the tribal council, they will consider moving it to the agenda for a formal vote, Bender said.

“We had a fairly lengthy discussion, and there is quite a lot of interest,” Bender said. “We had let the council know a long time ago that it was something we were serious about and ultimately wanted to request the council pass a resolution.”

The proposal, brought forward by the Human Rights Commission, aims to celebrate the city’s "First Peoples" by honoring their contributions to the "continued development and success in creating a tolerant and accepting whole community of Red Wing citizens."

"The Native Americans had an amazing civilization, and the more we find out about it the more we realize we don't know," Commissioner Dorothy Eckblad said. Eckblad said the commission has been working on getting traction for this resolution for several years.

"Mostly people are paying no attention," Eckblad said. "There are a lot of people who don’t know it's being talked about, but I haven’t heard any opposition from people who find out about it."

The resolution cites numerous reasons for the proposed change, including that Columbus never set foot in North America and made no real contributions to the city of Red Wing, according to the commission.

The commission also takes issue with Columbus' reported abuse of the natives, a behavior that the commission says is "completely unacceptable by our modern standards for basic human rights."

"There are a lot of reasons why Columbus shouldn’t be honored with a day and that the original people in this area should be honored," Eckblad said. "The things [Columbus] did weren’t nice; he enslaved people, was cruel and never did get to the mainland."

The commission wants to instead recognize the history and cultural traditions of the Red Wing area's First Peoples, such as their development of a trade network and the settlement of several towns in the area.

Bender’s interest in the subject started back in college, he said.

“Through my Native American studies, the whole Columbus thing was an issue,” Bender said. “I had a chance to buy a copy of the Four Voyages of Columbus, which are four letters that he wrote, and when reading his own words about what was going on I was blown away.”

Bender added that the Internet has made resources much more accessible over the years.

“Further education helps make you much more aware of the situation,” Bender said. “I think that as a country, Columbus Day has gone from being celebrated to being an embarrassment."

Officially, the proposal wouldn’t affect anything other than the name of the city’s observance, but the commission is also asking to develop programs and discussions to enhance the understanding of the First Peoples. Eckblad said they aren’t considering changing the date because a lot of people already have it built into their work or school schedules.

Read the full resolution here.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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