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Oberlin honors Indigenous People, not Columbus (photos)

October 9, 2018

Oberlin honors Indigenous People, not Columbus (photos)

OBERLIN, Ohio -- While the rest of the country honored Christopher Columbus, the city of Oberlin on Monday honored the people who were living here before he arrived.

The second annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration in Tappen Square drew fewer than 50 people who were there to learn about the plight of the Native Americans.

“My people, the Tayno Arawaks, were the first people to meet Columbus when he arrived in the islands around the Bahamas, and they were the first to be slaughtered by him,” said Three Eagle Cloud, the Oberlin man who started the movement in the city to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. “Since then, we have been screwed over from the Bahamas to Alaska.”

The attempt by him and others to have the city honor its original inhabitants actually was accepted pretty quickly in the city known for its liberal leanings and for Oberlin College.

City Councilwoman Kristin Peterson, who was elected to council after the vote to change the focus of the holiday, said there was little discussion or disagreement among council members about the issue.

“Council was 100 percent behind it,” she said “It was a typically Oberlin thing to do. Of course, the discussions by the public were a different story. There was a busload of Italian Americans from Cleveland that came to council meetings and argued long and hard against it.”

The motion was passed in 2017, just weeks before the holiday. A small celebration was held that year, which Jeff Pierce, spokesman for the Ohio American Indian Movement, said will continue to grow in coming years.

“Christopher Columbus was absolutely brutal to my people,” said Pierce, an Apache Chiricahua. “How do you discover a land that already has people living on it?”

Casey Tobik, of Lakewood, took her 4-year-old son, Asa, to the gathering so he could learn about the culture.

“His Montessori School in Avon gave the children off for Indigenous Peoples’ Day and I thought we should come and see what it was about,” she said. 

Asa, with some coaching from his mom, said he enjoyed looking at the handicrafts for sale, especially the painted turtle shells and the necklaces.

Another one of the people who pushed Oberlin to become the first city in the state to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, who goes by the name Sundance, said he was proud of his city.

“Now Cincinnati did it, too (last week), and we hope the movement keeps growing,” he said.

More than 50 cities in the United States now have Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to the Time Magazine website as of 2017.

Not everyone was pleased with the new holiday. Two large boulders in Oberlin College’s Tappen Square that were painted with messages about the new holiday were defaced overnight. 

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