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Bon voyage, Christopher Columbus? Bill would have Michigan celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day

A tribal citizen sets off into the Straits of Mackinaw.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
A tribal citizen sets off into the Straits of Mackinaw.

Columbus Day is a famously contentious holiday, and it may be one that Michigan no longer celebrates in the future.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a proclamation naming October 14, 2019 Indigenous Peoples' Day, but that decision can't become law unless the legislation is passed and signed into law.

Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced a bill Friday that would make the second Monday in October of each year Indigenous Peoples' Day.

He says, "More and more residents are coming around to the idea that rather than celebrate the barbarous history of Columbus, we should instead celebrate the very real and present and positive history of native people here in Michigan."

Read more: For the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, this has always been home

A number of Michigan cities have already opted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day, including Detroit, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and Traverse City. Other states that no longer celebrate Columbus Day include South Dakota, New Mexico, and Maine. 

Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937, largely as a celebration of Italian-American heritage. But according to the Pew Research Center, it is the most inconsistently celebrated federal holiday: only 21 states give state employees paid time off for the holiday. In Michigan, state employees show up to work on Columbus Day.

Indigenous Peoples' Day wasfirst proposed by indigenous activists during the 1977 United Nations Geneva Conference. The goal of the holiday is to honor the history and culture of indigenous people who were massacred and persecuted against as a result of Columbus' accidental discovery of the Americas.

Michigan is home to the Ottawa (Odawa), Chippewa (Ojibwe), and Potawatomi, who have, as described in Whitmer's proclamation, "lived upon this land since time immemorial."

The proclamation explains celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day is crucial to "honor the historic, cultural, and contemporary significance of Indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands that also became known as the Americas and celebrate their contributions to communities throughout Michigan, the United States, and all over the world."

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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