CHICAGO - Members of Chicago’s Native American community are putting pressure on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to permanently banish statues of Christopher Columbus from city parks, and they want the city and state to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
The sounds of Native American drums and dancing filled Potawatomi Park on Chicago’s North Side on Monday, as a coalition of Native American leaders and progressive politicians called for an end to Columbus Day and Columbus statues.
"I’m Italian-American," said Democratic State Representative Will Guzzardi of Chicago. "And I’m really proud to be Italian-American. So proud, in fact, that I know we can choose a better hero to honor for our community than a mass murdering slave trader."
A bill that would change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Chicago stalled in the City Council two years ago. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, 49th Ward Alderman Maria Hadden, said she hopes to get it passed before elections next year.
"Having holidays, being able to note, to mark, to celebrate and acknowledge together, is part of a healing process," Hadden said. "It’s part of a recognition of the trauma that we’re still experiencing."
In 2020, violent protests prompted Mayor Lightfoot to put the city’s three Columbus statues in temporary storage and appoint a monuments commission to decide whether they and other controversial statues should be returned to the parks.
In August, the mayor’s handpicked commission recommended that those three Columbus statues be permanently banned from Chicago parks.
But Native American leaders are worried the mayor may bow to political pressure.
"If she puts the statues back out after the committee she formed said no, then it seems like pandering to me," said Les Begay, a member of the Indigenous Peoples Day Coalition for Illinois. "It’s no different than taking down Confederate statues. Columbus statue has that same impact on us."
The mayor has not said when she plans to make a final decision.
Last year, President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation calling on Indigenous Peoples Day to be celebrated along with Columbus Day.