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Northfield City Council votes in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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The Northfield City Council unanimously approved a resolution designating Oct. 8. as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Northfield Human Rights Commission (HRC) brought the resolution to the Council on Oct. 2. The holiday will now be recognized by the City of Northfield, in addition to the nationally-recognized Columbus Day.

The HRC rekindled efforts to establish an Indigenous Peoples’ Day when Commission members decided to focus on Indigenous communities for the 2018 celebration of the International Day of Peace. Their efforts were built upon decades-old, mostly unsuccessful initiatives to acknowledge the Native peoples who originally lived in the region. The resolution was included as an item on the Council’s “consent agenda” – a bundled list of proposals voted on as a single piece of legislation – which was approved by the four Council members present at the meeting. HRC Secretary Angelique Dietz read from a statement written by commission member Corinne Smith.

“Prior to John North, this land that is now Northfield was lived upon, utilized and cared for by the Wahpekute, a Mdewakanton Band of the Dakota, who were seasonal travelers along the river,” Dietz read. “We should recognize those who lost their homeland and the role that we played in destroying their society and wellbeing.”

However, Council member David Delong objected to the language of the resolution, saying that it was based off of historical inaccuracies and unfairly burdens Northfield with past crimes of the U.S. government.

Delong referenced City Administrator Ben Martig’s City Council Summary Report. According to the report, Sue Garwood of the Rice County Historical Society “indicated that there were no Ojibwe in the Northfield area, and as for the Dakota, they never used the Northfield area for long-term living.”

The Lower Sioux Indian Community has not responded to the Manitou Messenger’s request for comment.

During the vote, Delong asked the City Clerk to mark him as present but “not voting.”

“I think the idea is good but the execution is terrible,” Delong said.

This raised protocol questions among Council members and Mayor Rhonda Pownell because the resolution needed to be passed along with the other consent agenda items. Delong ultimately voted in favor of the consent agenda, so the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution passed.

The city will now use Oct. 8 to “reflect upon the history of how Indigenous Peoples have been treated over time, to celebrate the contributions to the thought and culture of the region made by Dakota, Ojibwe, and other Indigenous nations,” according to the resolution.

“It’s part of integrating and maturing as a culture to acknowledge an aspect of our history that remains unacknowledged, and that’s true for any culture and any person,” Council member Suzie Nakasian said. “I hope that in Northfield this will be the opening of a richer, more intentional understanding of our history and this beautiful land.”

Smith, HRC Chair Mar Valdecantos and Northfield community activist Dorothea Hrossowyc all highlighted the importance of acknowledging a more complete version of Minnesota’s history during the meeting.

In a 2014 letter to Mayor Dana Graham, the HRC unsuccessfully requested that the “Northfield City Council seriously consider recognizing the Indigenous People of this country by renaming the existing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” This initiative played off the work of activists who in 1992 formed what Hrossowyc referred to as “The Quincentennial Remembrance and Healing Project.”

The project began when Hrossowyc and others opposed celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. The group met monthly for a year with Native Peoples to discuss relevant themes and issues.

“I remember a very fiery discussion when we were looking at the history textbooks at the high school in a big group,” Hrossowyc said. “I remember a Native American man led that and talked about how there were only five references to Native People in the whole, thick history textbook.”

Merely proclaiming the holiday, however, is not enough, HRC representatives said.

“We ask that the City encourage all segments of the community – governments, businesses, schools, faith communities, organizations and individuals – to take time each year to recognize the original peoples of this land,” Dietz read. “We especially ask the city to take leadership in this, so we can grow in our sense of history and our sense of honesty about who we are and what we can be.”

There will be a celebration and “community listening session” on Monday, Oct. 8, to discuss how the day will be recognized in the future, Valdecantos said.

“In recognizing this, the City would be making an awareness day for all of us to celebrate the rich cultures and groups of people from this land and from other countries,” Valdecantos said. “They need to be recognized.”

**This article was corrected to reflect the correct spelling of Angelique Dietz’s name.**

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