Steve Dear’s great grandmother watched Lt. Col. George Custer ride off to the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Custer, of course, never came back. The soldier made his eponymous “last stand” in battle against Northern Plains Indians, part of the Great Sioux War of 1876 against U.S. expansion.
Now Dear, whose ancestor baked desserts for Custer at Fort Abraham Lincoln, wants people to reflect on the rest of the story of those who lived here before “the discovery” of America.
On Tuesday the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, following the lead of cities such as Berkeley, Minneapolis and Seattle and the state of South Dakota, adopted a resolution declaring Monday “Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Town of Carrboro.”
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“Indigenous Peoples of the lands that would later become known as the Americas have occupied these lands since time immemorial,” the resolution states.
“Orange County, North Carolina, is built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region,” it continues.
North Carolina has the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi River. There are more than 122,000 American Indians and eight recognized tribes in the state, including the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation in Orange and Alamance counties, according to the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs.
Alderwoman Michelle Johnson, who read Tuesday’s resolution, said she and counterparts in Orange County and Chapel Hill governments had hoped to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day after Dear brought the idea to them last year, but it didn’t happen.
The town’s resolution does not replace Columbus Day, she said. “Carrboro doesn’t observe it, and our employees don’t have it off,” she said.
But Johnson said she thought “it was at least important to have the resolution,” as she and others consult with local Native Americans and work toward some kind of county-wide observance in the future.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation to a United Nations conference on discrimination against indigenous populations in the Americas.
In 1994, the U.N. declared each August 9 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Events celebrate the day around the world, including at U.N. headquarters in New York City.
Carrboro’s resolution goes beyond celebrations.
The town has a responsibility, it says, to oppose systemic racism that perpetuates high poverty rates and health and education crises among native peoples.
It calls on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school systems to teach indigenous history and for the community to celebrate Native American culture and values.
John “Blackfeather” Jeffries, a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation Tribal Council, already has a Columbus Day tradition.
“I wear a black shirt and a black arm band; that’s my protest,” Jeffries said Friday. “I say it’s a sad day in the history of the native people.”
Jeffries says Columbus Day does not celebrate history as much as “his story” and says he appreciates the Carrboro resolution’s intentions.
But, “you have to look at this through the eyes of a native person,” he said. “We’re here every day.”
‘The real history’
Dear, the executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, wants this week’s resolution to become more than words on paper.
He said he was sitting in his office one day when he read how Minnesota had passed a resolution and thought “gosh, Carrboro could start it in North Carolina.”
“Every city and state in America should no longer recognize Columbus Day,” Dear said.
“This should be a day of reflection on the real history of our country and mourning what we have done,” he said, “and to celebrate the people who were here and whose descendants remain.”
MOTION WAS MADE BY ALDERMAN JOHNSON, SECONDED BY ALDERMAN CHANEY TO APPROVE THE RESOLUTION BELOW:
RESOLUTION DECLARING "INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY"
WHEREAS, the holiday known as Columbus Day commemorates the Italian
Explorer Christopher Columbus and his voyages to the "New World"; and,
WHEREAS, Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1937; and,
WHEREAS, the Town of Carrboro recognizes that the Indigenous Peoples of the lands that would later become known as the Americas have occupied these lands since time immemorial; and
WHEREAS, the Town recognizes the fact that Orange County, North Carolina is built upon the homelands and villages of the Indigenous Peoples of this region; and
WHEREAS, the Town recognizes and values the many contributions made to our community through Indigenous Peoples' knowledge, labor, technology, science, philosophy, arts and the deep cultural contribution; and
WHEREAS, the Town has a responsibility to oppose the systematic racism towards Indigenous People in the United States, which perpetuates high rates of poverty and income inequality, exacerbating disproportionate health, education, and social crises; and
WHEREAS, the Town promotes the closing of the equity gap for Indigenous Peoples through policies and practices that reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, ensure greater access and opportunity, and honor our nation's indigenous roots, history, and contributions; and
WHEREAS, Indigenous Peoples' Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the United Nations sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas; and
WHEREAS, On February 4, 2002 the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation located in Orange and Alamance counties becomes North Carolina's eighth official Indian tribe; and
WHEREAS, on April 21, 2009 the Town of Carrboro was declared a Human Rights City adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (as the second city in the nation to do so), committing itself to protect, respect and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights for all as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other international human rights treaties; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE TOWN OF CARRBORO THAT:
Section 1. The Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the Town of Carrboro declare the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day in the Town of Carrboro.
Section 2. The Town of Carrboro strongly supports the proposition that Indigenous Peoples' Day shall be an opportunity to celebrate the thriving cultures and values of the Indigenous Peoples of our region.
Section 3. The Town of Carrboro strongly encourages Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County Public Schools to include the teaching of Indigenous Peoples’ history.
Section 4. The Town of Carrboro firmly commits to work with Indigenous communities to promote the well-being and sustenance of Carrboro’s Indigenous community.
Section 5. The Town of Carrboro encourages all elected boards in Orange County as well as the Alamance County Board of Commissioners to pass similar resolutions before October of 2016, and asks that the Town Clerk forward this resolution to the clerks of each board.
This the 6th day of October, 2015
Ayes: Alderman Seils, Alderman Slade, Alderman Chaney, Mayor Lavelle, Alderman Johnson, Alderman Gist, Alderman Haven-O’Donnell
The annual American Indian Heritage Celebration at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21. Members of all eight state-recognized tribes will provide opportunities to learn about North Carolina’s Native American culture, past and present.