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Indigenous Peoples' Day Fact Sheet

These facts are mostly specific to Oberlin and the state of Ohio, but use them to begin thinking of important questions to learn more about the history of the land your city or state now occupies.

What is the history of Indigenous Peoples' Day?

In 1965, the United Nations developed a Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The definition for "racial discrimination" used was "any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations.In the 1990s, the City of Berkeley, California and the State of South Dakota were the first to make the change from celebrating Columbus Day to celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day. Since that time, nearly thirty cities or jurisdictions as well as two other States (Alaska and Vermont) have recognized Indigenous Peoples' Day (Sample Resolutions from the cities of Anchorage, Alaska; Seattle, Washington; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Albuquerque, New Mexico are enclosed).

Why not continue to celebrate Columbus Day?

Scholars estimate that there were approximately 25 million indigenous peoples in the Americas between 14,000-45,000 prior to the landing of Christopher Columbus. Contrary to popular belief Columbus did not "discover" an America that "began" with the arrival of European traders and settlers, nor did he arrive in what we now call the United States. Columbus' ship went off course landing on the island of Hispañola in the area we currently know as modem Haiti. The arrival of Columbus and his men, through initial and subsequent travels, led to the spread of deadly diseases, forced assimilation, warfare, and massacres of native populations. His men wrote of their work as one of killing, destroying, ravaging, and maiming. Columbus' offenses were so egregious that he returned to Europe at one point in chains, where he was tried for crimes against humanity but later pardoned.

When John Shipherd and Philo Stewart claimed this land for the Oberlin Colony in 1833, what was its prior history?

The Erielhona, or Erie Tribe, lived along the southern shores of Lake Erie from Erie, PA to Toledo, OH. They were known as the Cat Nation, most likely because they wore raccoon furs. The Erie were hunters and farmers who lived in Longhouses enclosed in palisades, or stake fences. Their crops were enclosed within the palisades, too, and consisted of the Three Sisters crops: corn, squash, and beans. The Erie had little contact with Europeans with the exception of the Dutch with whom they traded raccoon and beaver fur.

The Beaver Wars were started around 1640 by the Iroquois Nation to the east who sought to increase their territory for beaver fur trade with the French. By 1655, the Iroquois had reached Erie territory. The Cat Nation wanted to preserve the peace, and agreed to meet with delegates from one of the tribes that made up the Iroquois Nation, the Seneca. They met at the Seneca capitol to have discussions. One of the Ene's 30 chosen ambassadors, through an unfortunate accident, killed one of the Seneca delegates. In retaliation the Seneca killed all but five of the Erie delegates, and officially declared war on the Erie. After several conflicts wherein the Iroquois used rifles provided by the French, the Erie were forced to surrender. The Iroquois tradition was to absorb defeated enemies and adopt them into the tribe. As such, the Erie eventually lost their language and unique identity.

The Iroquois did not establish settlements or villages in most of the Erie territory. It was used only as hunting ground. The land that was claimed in 1833 by Shipherd and Stewart to found Oberlin was technically apart of the Iroquois Nation.

Why should the Oberlin City Council change its local celebration of Columbus Day to one of Indigenous Peoples' Day?

In a town that seeks to support the dignity and human rights of all people, to continue to acquiesce to blatant distortions of history by celebrating Columbus Day is contrary to Oberlin's highest ideals. Telling the truth about our nation's history in the public square is essential in a time when fiction increasingly replaces fact and treaties between Native American tribes and the United States of America continue to be dismissed. Recent events at Standing Rock are a most recent example of this tragic reality.

In 2016, the Cincinnati City Council rejected a proposal to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day. To date, no city or jurisdiction in Ohio has taken this step, while three States and over 30 cities and municipal jurisdictions throughout the country have. It seems fitting that the City of Oberlin would take bold action, recognizing the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples' Day, while also encouraging other institutions such as the schools, libraries, and museums, to implement related programs to teach a factual history both of the ground on which we stand and the people who formed communities before the Oberlin Colony was established in 1833.

The previous information is backed up by documentation and research provided by other cities and municipalities which have passed this Resolution as well as a simple Internet search on the early history of Northeast Ohio before the European settlers arrived and the facts about Christopher Columbus. 

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