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Red Wing Human Rights Commission Member Scott Bender (center) presents a resolution Monday to rename Columbus Day as First Peoples’ Day in the city. The HRC says the change honors Native Americans and other early settlers. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

City might rename Columbus Day

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Red Wing City Council discussed a resolution Monday to replace Columbus Day with a renamed First Peoples’ Day, but agreed to hold off on making a decision until conferring with the Prairie Island Indian Community.

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The city will draft a letter to the Prairie Island Tribal Council seeking formal input on the proposal, City Council President Lisa Bayley said.

“It took me a while to come around to this, but I really think you are on the right track here,” Council Member Dean Hove told members of the city’s Human Rights Commission, who developed the resolution.

But Council Member Peggy Rehder said she would not feel comfortable voting on the HRC’s proposal until first meeting with the Tribal Council.

“In some ways, our deciding this issue without input from them is actually a bit condescending,” Rehder said.

Council Members Jason Sebion and Marilyn Meinke agreed with Rehder, creating a 3-2 consensus to seek additional input.

Council Members Ralph Rauterkus and Michael Schultz were not present at Monday’s joint City Council and HRC workshop.

The Prairie Island Tribal Council released the following statement Tuesday evening:

“The Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council has not yet seen the proposed resolution, so we cannot comment in detail at this time.  The Mdewakanton Dakota have lived on Prairie Island and in the Red Wing area for countless generations, and the Tribal Council appreciates any effort to recognize and honor the unique cultural and historical connection of the Mdewakanton Dakota to the Red Wing area.” 

HRC Member Scott Bender said the commission has sent updates to the Prairie Island Indian Community about the resolution but has not had official correspondence with them.

The HRC’s resolution calls for the renaming to honor Red Wing’s first residents, including “their history and cultural traditions and their contributions to our continued development and success in creating a tolerant and accepting whole community of Red Wing citizens.”

The document further denounces Christopher Columbus’ “extreme cruelty” to the civilizations he encountered.

The name change also would recognize other early peoples in the area, including Leif Ericson and Norse explorers, HRC Chair Barbara von Haaren added.

Columbus Day started as a federal holiday in 1937.

City buildings remain open on Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, and only one city union recognizes it officially, City Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said.

Bender, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Red Wing High School, said the district typically uses the day as a teacher work day, but it is not a designated school holiday.

A number of states and cities across the U.S. have decided not to observe Columbus Day or replaced it with someting else, including South Dakota which now celebrates Native Americans' Day instead.

Although reaction to the proposal has been mixed, Bender said people tend to side against Columbus Day the more they learn about the controversial figure.

“There’s a lot to celebrate in our Indian community,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot to celebrate in the Christopher Columbus story.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the states that do not recognize Columbus Day.

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Michael Brun
Michael Brun is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program. He has worked for the Republican Eagle since March 2013, covering county government, health and local events. 
(651) 301-7875
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