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A Rally For Indigenous Peoples’ Day At City Hall

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SARAH Y. KIM/WYPR
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On what is still officially Columbus Day in Baltimore, members of the city’s indiginous community rallied in the rain Monday afternoon calling for the renaming of the holiday.

The event was also a celebration of indigenous peoples’ culture, full of music, dancing and prayer. 

Led by Indigenous Strong, the rally came a week after the City Council passed a bill that would rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. But Mayor Jack Young has not signed the bill into law. 

If Young had signed the bill before Monday, it would have immediately changed the holiday’s name. He also has two other choices: veto the bill or allow it to become law by taking no action on it within three city council meetings.

The mayor’s inaction comes despite his co-sponsorship of an identical piece of legislation introduced by City Council President Brandon Scott in 2016.

Jennifer Hunt, who is Choctaw, opened the speeches with a prayer. 

“God, I just ask that you lay it on Mayor Jack Young’s heart to sign the bill. I pray for all the City Council, I pray for Baltimore City. I pray for all those that are sick, all of those families that have been affected by COVID,” Hunt said. 

As Hunt prayed, organizers burned sage. The ritual serves to purify the body and spirit. 

“I pray and ask that you cover all of us in your protection, you allow us to return back to our homes, better brothers and sisters than we were here today,” Hunt said. “Thank you for using us, thank you for using me as your vessel, in your son’s name I pray, amen.” 

The mayor’s inaction is despite his co-sponsorship of identical legislation introduced by City Council President Brandon Scott in 2016.

Councilman John Bullock of West Baltimore introduced the most recent iteration of the bill. He spoke at Monday’s rally. 

“So many of us, our bloodlines are intermingled on this land,” Bullock said. “There’s a reason that I have my two sons here. To witness history. We are recognizing that we are different shades, different tones, hair textures, different eye colors, but we are indigenous strong.”

Bullock said their work to make the bill official is far from over. 

“We’re not going anywhere. We are here,” he said. “We’re making history every day, we’re making history right now.” 

Scott, the Democratic nominee for mayor, also spoke at the rally. 

“This is a very simple thing. Christopher Columbus did not discover America,” he said. “This is about allowing people who have been deemed invisible to be seen. And I want you to know that I see you and that I hear you.” 

He said he hopes more people will rally to their cause. 

“This is just the first of many celebrations of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Baltimore. And next year it will be bigger and better,” Scott said. 

The bill to rename Columbus Day is the latest public reckoning of the Italian explorer’s legacy. 

yOn the 4th of July, protestors toppled, thendragged a statue of Columbus from Little Italy into the Inner Harbor. 

Such actions have concerned residents like Rosalind Heid. Heid says her neighbors in Little Italy feel their culture is being rejected. 

“It really has hurt the people a lot,” she said. “I was there when they roped up the statue, they knocked it down. It was heartbreaking.” 

She says Indigenous Peoples’ Day is redundant with American Indian Heritage Day, which Maryland celebrates the day after Thanksgiving. 

“I wish they would celebrate that, change this to Italian American heritage day and then everybody would be happy,” Heid said. 

While Heid opposes Bullock’s bill, she says she came to the rally to celebrate indigenous culture. 

For residents like Jai Brooks, however, the bill is a significant achievement. 

“I’m Piscataway, and this is Piscataway land, so this has always been very dear to my heart,” Brooks said. 

The Piscataway are native to Maryland. 

As the rally came to a close, everyone gathered into a circle for what organizers say is a family dance where traditionally people lock hands. This time, they danced with social distance.

 

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