This week, La Crosse is changing the Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous People’s Day and some of the indigenous residents of the region are thanking the city.
The city’s first Indigenous People’s Day was observed Monday.
Professor Dan Green, who has long campaigned against Columbus Day, was among the speakers at a holiday program in La Crosse City Hall. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor said his education about Columbus began in school with a painting showing the explorer as a hero.
“The painting has the admiral, brightly hued, center staged with sword and flag in hands,” Green described. “The symbolic representation is one of euro-centricity and the acceptance of colonizing violence in the name of pseudo patriotism.”
Green added that the painting can still be seen at the U.S. Capitol.
The U.S. has been celebrating Columbus Day as a federal holiday for more than 80 years.
Green refers to the explorer of 1492 as, “He who shall not be named,” saying the community will benefit if it downplays what he calls “the atrocious history of the greedy sailor.”
At the ceremony, Green asked the audience to think of moments which made them feel good.
“Have you known the peace of forgiving a harm done to you? Have you ever been thanked for a seemingly thankless job?” Green said, concluding, “If you know these emotions, you know what it feels like for Indigenous people to be recognized this day.”
La Crosse School District superintendent Randy Nelson joined in the ceremony. The change was nothing new for Nelson, who says the district has had a process in place to review textbooks and materials that might be culturally outdated.
“We do have a process for adopting textbooks and things like that and so one of the characters that we look for is the accuracy of what’s in those textbooks and the perspective taking in those resources,” Nelson said.
Nelson added there’s more work to be done in the school system to balance historical accounts taught in class. He says the La Crosse district often puts together its own materials to replace the old history books.
Ho-Chunk Nation president Wilfred Cleveland thanked Mayor Tim Kabat and city council members for making a name change.
“They thought about it and they would change his name to Indigenous Peoples Day,” Cleveland said. “I find that a momentous time for the city of La Crosse and the Ho-Chunk nation as a whole.”
Cleveland told the dedication audience, including school children, about La Crosse’s historic significance as a meeting place for Native Americans, at the confluence of three rivers.
Green declared the new name for La Crosse’s holiday as a positive development for native people.