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Dallas City Council Fights It Out over Columbus, Indigenous People’s Day

Dallas City Council member David BlewettEXPAND
Dallas City Council member David Blewett
Jim Schutze

Next Monday, the second one in October and the one frequently celebrated as Columbus Day, will be known as Indigenous People's Day in Dallas from that point forward. The change, eventually passed unanimously by the City Council, didn't come easy, as several members of the council decided to put their necks out for Christopher Columbus, a guy who, as the resolution establishing the day notes, never set foot in Texas.

"By voting in favor of (the resolution) you will be in the books as forever supporting the indigenous community of this area," Leroy Pena of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas told council members. "It's time after all these years that my ancestors were honored for taking care of the land."

City Council member Omar Narvaez, the driving force behind the resolution, fought back tears as he addressed supporters of the day of remembrance.

"You are not forgotten," Narvaez told supporters of the resolution. "This is a day that we right a wrong for you folks. The folks that started here. That made this land possible. ... I thank you and I honor you."

Narvaez's colleague, City Council member David Blewett, said that, while he empathizes with the suffering of Texas' indigenous populations, he could not sign on with the resolution as a whole.

Specifically, Blewett took issue with the resolution's acknowledgment of the effects of colonization on native populations as well as the persistent, systemic racism faced by those groups.

"Personally, my stepfather is Cherokee. My mother's family is from Oklahoma, and there is family lore that there is Cherokee in our blood as well, so it is personal to me, and I am here to celebrate and honor the indigenous culture," Blewett said. "But there is verbiage in this resolution that does not celebrate your heritage, our heritage, in a way that I like."

Dallas City Council member Omar Narvaez
Dallas City Council member Omar Narvaez
dallascityhall.com

Blewett asked to delay the vote on the resolution until after lunch. During the break, he met with Narvaez as well as the leaders of several indigenous groups. When the council returned, Blewett agreed to leave the resolution largely intact, but just couldn't let go of its language about Columbus.

WHEREAS, honoring the role of Columbus — who never set foot in Texas — as a historical figure promotes values of intolerance and violence that are still common in today's world and is inconsistent with the value of Dallas as a welcoming community.

Dallas shouldn't be talking about Columbus, Blewett said, when Columbus Day isn't even on the city's calendar.

"I don't think that there is a purpose in referencing — I don't really want to read their paragraph — I would like to substitute their paragraph seven for my paragraph seven," Blewett said. "Columbus has nothing to do with this ... I think that the paragraph in there does have reference to Columbus, which we don't celebrate. They have a gratuitous shot at something that I just don't find relevant and so I would like to stay to the specifics of the resolution. I would like to stay to the specifics of supporting and uplifting them."

Council member Adam Bazaldua said that it was hard to acknowledge the struggles of indigenous people without talking about Columbus.

"I think that the acknowledgment of Indigenous People's Day, it brings up a hard topic. A lot of times, hard topics are where we find some sort of resolution," Bazaldua said. "This is an opportunity to lay it all out. I think to ignore or omit just for ease or comfort is what led us to the majority of people in our country celebrating Columbus Day and not Indigenous People's Day."

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Blewett wasn't having any of it.

"'As a historical figure promoting intolerance and violence' — I just think that's a bridge too far," Blewett said. "I think that Columbus represents a lot of things to a lot of different people, and to say that he 'promotes values of intolerance and violence' doesn't represent the spirit of what I want to vote for."

After more than a half-hour of back and forth, Blewett and Bazaldua's fellow freshman on the council, Oak Cliff representative Chad West, offered an amendment to the resolution, stripping out the language about "intolerance and violence" and replacing it by saying that "celebrating Indigenous People's Day rather than Columbus Day better reflects Dallas' values." It passed, but Blewett, along with council members Cara Mendelsohn and Lee Kleinman, didn't vote for it.

Correction Oct. 9 2019, 9:37 a.m.: The original version of this post got the final vote total wrong. The resolution passed 14-0. The amendment changing to change the language about Columbus passed 11-3.

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