On October 12th, 2015, Seattle came together to celebrate our second annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day. When I first took office in early 2014, indigenous activists had been trying to secure sponsorship for the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution – without success. My office responded to the community immediately. Together with Matt Remle, the author of last year’s historic resolution, indigenous activists, social justice advocates, and I brought pressure to bear, demanding that the City of Seattle honor the history and memory of those who experienced the brutal realities of colonialism and genocide.
This year, we came back to present and unanimously pass a groundbreaking resolution to condemn the horrific United States Indian Boarding School Policy, which was in effect from 1869 to the 1960s, and help heal the inter-generational wounds created by this century of abuse, manipulation, and violence. The federal government has never formally acknowledged, let alone apologized for, this dark chapter of history. This resolution demands they do that.
I want to reiterate that these two resolutions only happened because indigenous activists organized, fought for them, and had a receptive voice in City Hall. Together, we need to expand our movement and rebuild the culture of struggle. My remarks delivered at the passing of the resolution are below.
Introducing the Resolution
I wanted to begin by thanking everybody in the Seattle indigenous community for their activism, starting with the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution that we were able to pass unanimously last year. I wanted to call out [resolution author] Matt Remle in particular, for his unflagging enthusiasm for his community, and for all of us who are fighting for social justice. I also wanted to specially thank Chris Stearns, as well, for presiding over the celebration that we had at Bertha Knight Landes.
This resolution acknowledges the traumas and horrors of the US American Indian Boarding School Policy. For those that do not know, throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century – which was not that long ago, and you heard testimonies earlier from people here who have had relatives that went through this – the federal government had a policy that continued the genocide of the indigenous peoples of this continent.
Over 100,000 Native American children were taken from their homes and families, often forcefully, as was said before. These children were not allowed to speak their own languages or practice their own religions.
They were subjected to abuses, including child labor and sexual abuse. Genocide, as the Seattle Human Rights Commission confirms, is not only the mass killing of a people, it is also the erasing of their culture, their language, their religion, and that is precisely what the US American Indian Boarding School Policy was designed to do. It was not accidental.
This resolution demands that US Congress acknowledge and take steps to correct the damage done by this policy.
This resolution was initially drafted by Matt Remle, and has been supported by a long list of community organizations – the Seattle Human Rights Commission, Idle No More, El Centro de Raza, and the Northwest Two Spirits Society.
All these activists are part of a growing movement for justice in Seattle, against racism, against violence, and for housing and income justice. And I must mention, the Black Lives Matter movement organizations are also in solidarity with this resolution.
And just like the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution we passed last year, this resolution is so powerful because it is groundbreaking.
The federal government has never even acknowledged this history, never mind taking steps to correct the harm done or offer any sort of justice, and this resolution demands they do that.
The timing of this resolution is not an accident. We are voting on this today, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2015, because Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about celebrating indigenous peoples, but also about the using the symbolic importance of this day to continue the struggle against ongoing marginalization and oppression of these communities, and, indeed, all communities.
Please support this resolution, and to everyone in the community, lets start preparing today for the next steps of our struggle.
I just want to say, in closing, that we’ve come a long way since Minneapolis and Seattle declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day last year. Many other cities are on the way, and our hope is – and we will keep fighting for this – that by next year, the Federal government will have abolished Columbus Day nationally.
And did I hear correctly that the Governor of Alaska declared today as Indigenous Peoples’ Day? That’s a huge step forward. We should make sure that that happens here in Washington State.
We should take all of the energy that has been generated from what we have been able to achieve last year and this year, to make sure that we win victories on affordable housing, racial equity in schools, and especially that we demand that elected officials support the educators who are pushing to include the real history of America in the textbooks.
That is really necessary.
And last but not least, we’ve also been together, in fighting against the Cherry Point Coal Terminal, and I really congratulate the Idle No More movement on that. And we’ve been in the canoes, in front of the Polar Pioneer, to fight against Shell’s attempts to drill in the Arctic. So the fight goes on.