After weeks of collaboration with Indigenous Rights activists, on Monday, October 6th, 2014, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously in favor of Resolution 31538, declaring the second Monday in October “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in the City of Seattle. It was an honor to work with activists to draft the legislation, and to sponsor it. Check out the video of my speech, and the transcript below.
Kshama Sawant on the Establishment of Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Transcript of Speech as Delivered
I would like to thank all the indigenous activists, all the tribes, the Seattle Human Rights Commission and other community organizations who have tirelessly pushed for this Resolution to see the light of day – especially, I would like to thank Matt Remle who wrote the initial draft of the Seattle Resolution.
This Resolution is about more than just a name change. It is about educating ourselves and our children, about taking a stand against racism and discrimination.
When Columbus arrived on this continent, there were an estimated 50 – 100 million indigenous people already living in what came to be known as the “New World.” He did not embark on a simple voyage of exploration. It was always intended as a voyage of conquest and, ultimately, colonization.
Many are aware of the powerful chapter in Howard Zinn’s A Peoples’ History of the United States, in which he quotes from Columbus journal. Columbus indicts himself as one of the most prolific slave traders in human history, buying and selling more than 5,000 indigenous people, and he helped establish a pervasive and brutal system of forced labor.
Decades, just decades after Columbus’ arrival, through disease, war, conquest and forced labor the indigenous population had been reduced by as much as 90%.
These are historical facts, undisputed by historians. This city should not honor a man who played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known.
Some have attempted to portray this idea of Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a slight to Italian Americans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Italian Americans were at the forefront of some of the most important labor and human right struggles in the 19th and 20th centuries in this country. Italian Americans have a proud history of fighting against racism, both here and in their home country. Italians also figure among today’s social justice activists in Seattle, and elsewhere, many of whom I know personally. These are the real Italian American heroes that we should be celebrating – not Columbus.
But learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and a celebration of social justice is not merely educational in nature. And it’s not only celebrating cultures. It also allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination, and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.
22% of all indigenous Americans live in poverty, and access to quality education, healthcare, employment, and housing is woefully inadequate. Countless treaties continue to be violated. The Federal government refuses to even recognize the existence of the Duwamish, the very tribe whose land Seattle was founded on.
In closing, I am extremely happy to have been among the sponsors of this resolution. I appeal to Councilmembers to sign on this, and let us use this as an opportunity for us to all together fight for justice, honor all communities and ethnicities, and celebrate all cultures.