The Oak Park Board of Trustees approved a proclamation this week declaring the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples Day, following a trend across the country that aims to recognize the struggles and culture of indigenous people.
The proclamation made no mention of Columbus Day, a U.S. holiday on the second Monday of October, which marks Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas in 1492.
Columbus’ brutality to and enslavement of indigenous peoples has prompted criticism of the holiday for decades, motivating cities across the country to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day in its place.
The proclamation states: “Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the United Nations sponsored International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas.”
The proclamation was suggested earlier this year by Oak Park activist Anthony Clark, founder of Suburban Unity Alliance, who announced in May that he is running for Congress in 2018 for the Illinois 7th Congressional District.
“Throughout my educational history, I never learned about black American culture … in school. I never saw it represented in this community of Oak Park. To a certain extent I still never see it represented,” Clark told the board of trustees.
“And quite possibly even more marginalized than blacks are Native American indigenous people, so there comes a time when we have to be purposeful in this progressive community and send clear messages that we care, that we’re empowering those who have been disenfranchised, who have lacked ownership for hundreds and hundreds of years.”
Dominic Candelero, who has authored books about Italians in Chicago and Chicago Heights, objected to the proclamation, arguing that it replaces the traditions of one ethnic group for another.
“Bad policy. Bad policy,” he said.
Candelero added that the proclamation “ignores the 900-pound gorilla in the room, and that’s Columbus Day.”
“I think we should celebrate all the ethnic groups and Italian-Americans would be the first to join in on the celebration of indigenous peoples,” Candelero said. “Lo and behold we find that research finds that judging him by modern standards he was woeful in a lot of what he did and our pride maybe was misplaced, but here we are.”
Clark said the proclamation makes the point that indigenous people matter, adding that “it’s all well and good to celebrate everyone, but to me that’s a privilege, because to date not everyone has been celebrated. To date it’s been white culture, white history that has been celebrated. So I think after a couple of thousand years it’s not too much to ask to celebrate indigenous people only.”