Seize the day: Indigenous Peoples Day replaces Columbus Day in Fargo

by Josie Gereszek

Columbus Day is no more in Fargo-Moorhead.

Fargo joined Moorhead in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day last Monday after the Fargo City Commission voted to remove the original holiday.

The resolution was brought to the city commission after a weeks-long effort by Fargo’s Native American Commission, and passed 4-1. NAC cited the violent history of Christopher Columbus among its reasons to change the holiday.

Fargo Commissioner Dave Piepkorn was the only commisioner to offer a “no” vote, calling the resolution “divisive” and saying Native Americans should be satisfied with a national holiday called Native American Heritage Day.

The resolution’s passing was met with cheers from the more-than-80-person crowd who tightly packed itself into city chambers to support it.

Prior to the vote, members of the public, including MSUM alumna Jamie Holding Eagle, stood at the podium, appealing to the city commission. Many explained feeling that Native American heritage received minimal attention, while Columbus, who initiated genocide against them, got a holiday named after him.

Holding Eagle, who grew up in Fargo, said when she learned about the history of her state in fourth grade, she learned trivial facts about North Dakota instead of historical accounts of indigenous people’s experiences.

NAC acting chair Crystal Gonzales had a similar experience that motivated her to advocate for the resolution.

“My education for Columbus Day was like most Americans,” Gonzales said. “I thought he discovered America, but he never stepped foot on U.S. soil. I thought he was a hero, but he murdered, raped, tortured and enslaved … Everything taught to me in school was positive, and everything I learned on my own as an adult was horrific.”

Specific criticisms originally included in the resolution were removed in order to improve its chance of success.

While most speakers lobbied to pass the resolution, some were bothered because it had been “watered down” to appeal to city commissioners.

References to the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny, notions that justified European colonization efforts, were removed along with other language about atrocities committed by Columbus.

Gonzales and other members of NAC had opposed striking references to the Doctrine of Discovery because of its historical value.

“Truth does have to be recognized, even if it is unpleasant,” Gonzales said, though regardless, she sees the holiday change as a good starting point.

“Our main goal is to teach our community members the truth that is omitted in modern schools,” Gonzales said. “Indigenous Peoples Day will help in this pursuit … Fargo is ready for truth.”

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