2017-09-21 / Front Page

Indigenous Peoples Day set for Oct. 1

Compromise by county commissioners
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

The Leelanau County government has selected a day to observe “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

The roughly 800 Native Americans residing in Leelanau County will be recognized on their own day of Oct. 1 — not on Columbus Day, which occurs each year on the second Monday of October.

That decision by the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners came Tuesday evening in a split 5-2 vote of the board. District No. 4 Commissioner Ty Wessell, who originally introduced a resolution to observe Indigenous Peoples Day concurrently with Columbus Day, voted “no,” as did District No. 5 Commissioner Patricia Soutas Little.

Wessell said he wasn’t sure if setting Indigenous Peoples Day on a day other than Columbus Day wouldn’t do more harm to the county’s relationship with its Native American community than doing nothing.

“This amendment might have an effect opposite to the one we were originally intending,” Wessell said.

The decision by the County Board followed an extended public discussion at its meeting last week at its monthly executive meeting, which was preceded by extended public comment on the issue. Public comment and board discussion of the issue Tuesday evening was equally extensive and sometimes emotional.

Nine people offered public comment on the topic this week, seven of them in favor of adopting a resolution to observe Indigenous Peoples Day on Columbus Day, two of them opposed.

During a public comment opportunity, Edward Hinkleman of Omena said that asking a Native American to celebrate Columbus Day was like asking a Jew to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Hinkleman outlined historical evidence that credited Columbus with “enslavement and genocide of native peoples.”

Charles Knapp of Cleveland Township, on the other hand, commented that he thinks having Indigenous Peoples Day coincide with Columbus Day is designed “simply to take a swipe at all the people whose ancestors didn’t happen to live here thousands of years ago.”

Wessell noted that a principal of the county’s corporate counsel, Peter Cohl, was asked to review the resolution Wessell had originally presented last week and offer an opinion. Wessell said Cohl could find no connection between the county’s proposed resolution that would affect legal action the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians contemplates taking against the federal government.

The tribe is seeking tens of millions of dollars in reparations for historic “maladministration” of 78,000 acres if tribal reservation land in Leelanau and Antrim counties.

A tribal attorney, John Petoskey who is overseeing that case spoke out in favor of the Indigenous Peoples Day resolution last week. He was not present at this week’s meeting. Petoskey’s office also administers the tribe’s “2-percent” casino revenue sharing program.

County officials said there is still no word on whether the county will receive some or all of the $131,483 it applied for in the latest round of “2-percent payouts.” Normally, checks would have been received more than a month ago.

The Indigenous Peoples Day resolution adopted by the county this week was substantially edited from a version presented last week. In addition to changing the date from Columbus Day to Oct. 1, the new version eliminates references to the county making “amends for violence and oppression” against indigenous peoples.

During a discussion leading up to a vote on the issue, District No. 3 Commissioner and County Board Chairman Will Bunek said he believes some of the criticism of Christopher Columbus is based on “fake history.”

Bunek said the county does not need to “denigrate Columbus and the Italians in order to (honor) the Indians.” Bunek added that Columbus was a great explorer who should be honored for bringing Christianity to the New World.

“I don’t even know where you’re coming from!” an emotional Wessell said to the chairman. “No one is suggesting that we do away with Columbus Day!”

District No.6 Commissioner Casey Noonan said he believed it would be more fitting to honor indigenous people “on their own special day” and not “confuse” it with Columbus Day. District No. 2 Commissioner Debra Rushton said she agreed.

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