Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation signs a proclamation declaring the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Witnessing the signing is the Rev. Billie Nowabbi, a retired pastor in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

Churchgoers join push to rename Columbus Day

Should the second Monday in October celebrate Christopher Columbus? A number of United Methodists, including some in Philadelphia, say no.

Church members have joined efforts in Oklahoma and other parts of the U.S. to change the day into one that honors the people already in the Americas when Columbus landed.

“We are the original inhabitants of this land,” said the Rev. David Wilson, superintendent of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and a Choctaw. “But there is so little to affirm the contributions that Native American people have made to this country by giving up the land, which wasn’t voluntarily, and all the sacrifices people have made.”

Wilson and others believe Native Americans should receive the official recognition a civic holiday provides. Columbus, they add, is a particularly apt candidate to bump from the calendar, given his brutal treatment of indigenous people.

These advocates have found a receptive audience in various municipalities and university campuses. This month, the cities of Portland, Oregon; Lawrence, Kansas; and Albuquerque, New Mexico, declared the day to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This follows similar moves in St. Paul, Minnesota; Alpena, Michigan, Anadarko, Oklahoma; Olympia, Washington; Bexar County, Texas; Seattle and Minneapolis.

Still, Columbus Day has plenty of supporters, especially in the northeastern United States where parades and celebrations of Italian-American heritage mark the day.

But the Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell Jr., executive secretary for Native American and Indigenous Ministries at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said he has heard from United Methodists in Philadelphia, who are starting discussions about encouraging their city to rename Columbus Day. Kernell, who is Muscogee, said he hopes more church members will join such efforts. “I am in support of speaking the truth,” he said. “It’s not the end-all, but I think it will help.”

Read more of this story by UM News reporter Heather Hahn.

Photo: Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation signs a proclamation declaring the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Witnessing the signing is the Rev. Billie Nowabbi, a retired pastor in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.