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Indigenous People's Day Not A Popular Name With Everyone

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
In this file photo, demonstrators stand during a Native American protest against Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, in Seattle.

Today is Columbus Day, a federal holiday. But in Seattle officials plan to declare today to be Indigenous People's Day.

Native American groups requested the new name, arguing that Christopher Columbus was responsible for European colonization. Seattle City Council members passed the resolution unanimously, October 6.

"This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination," Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant told the Seattle Times.

"Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice ... allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day."

But many Italian-Americans don't see it the same way.

Ralph Fascitelli is an Italian-American activist. He says Columbus Day has historically been a day to celebrate Italian-American culture. And Fascitelli says having Indigenous People's Day on the same day as Columbus Day is disrespectful to the 25,000 Italian-Americans in the area.

"When you celebrate an ethnic holiday, it's like your birthday. And I think you feel cheated if there's cannibalization of that day,” Fascitelli said. “It's kind of like people who have their birthdays on Christmas and feel the impact is diluted."

Fascitelli says a group of Italian-American leaders plan to form a political action committee that will campaign against Seattle officials.

Today the streets of Seattle will likely be filled with drums, singing, and the faces of citizens from the city’s surrounding Native Nations: The Lummi, Nooksack, Tulalip, Sauk-Suiattle, Swinomish, Puyallup, Colville and 22 other Washington tribes, as well as citizens from other Indian Nations that call Seattle home.

Seattle isn't the first place to give the holiday a makeover. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis City Council also renamed Columbus Day to be Indigenous People's Day.

South Dakota celebrates Native American Day in "remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of our state."

Hawaii observes Discoverers' Day in which Polynesian explorers are honored.

In the past, anti-Columbus Day protestors have clashed with the holiday's supporters, most notably in Denver where members of the American Indian Movement have taken to the streets almost yearly since the late 1980s. Those protests have quieted down in recent years, although those annual demonstrations frequently ended in arrests.

But anti-Columbus sentiment is hardly limited to the U.S. In Chile, Mapuche activists launched anti-Columbus demonstrations that turned violent last year.

In 2002, indigenous people in Guatemala protested the day by shutting down highways across the country.

Today, many countries in Latin America -- including Mexico, El Salvador and Argentina -- recognize Dia de la Raza, while in Venezuela, the holiday has been renamed the Day of Indigenous Resistance.

In the U.S., the bigger issue now is whether the holiday can survive as a growing number of cities and states decide to do away with it. According to the Pew Research Center, it's already "one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays." Apart from federal employees, workers in only 23 states are given a paid day off to observe the holiday. The day is not an official holiday in Seattle or Washington state.

Year started with KUOW: 2012