Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Randee Haven-O’Donnell said North Carolina has one of the largest Native American populations east of the Mississippi.
“In addition to Orange County, North Carolina is built on the homelands and villages of indigenous people of this region,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “This is important to us and it does not replace Columbus Day, but it is important to recognize the people who were here before us.”
Michelle Johnson, a Carrboro Board of Aldermen member, introduced a resolution to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day after members of the community came forward to ask the board to recognize the history of Columbus Day and the events surrounding his landfall here.
“I agreed to work on it because I am well aware of colonization and that happening and the reality is that people were here, and if we’re celebrating Columbus, we — in my opinion — are celebrating someone who was involved in both the genocide of native people and we’re contributing to the narrative that the actual story of Columbus and the way things happened are true and most historians know that it’s not true,” she said. “I think it’s our attempt to clarify that and support that and also to express our values as a town.”
Nancy Oates, a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council, said Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps make the community more inclusive.
“I think that it’s one of those subtle changes, where we just kind of reshape the narrative,” she said. “I grew up where it was Columbus Day and we celebrated Columbus discovering America, but America was already here and had a civilization here. I think just renaming this and reshaping, refocusing the celebration makes a difference.”
Johnson said the community feedback to Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been largely positive.
“Mostly everyone was glad that we did it,” she said. “I didn’t get any negative feedback from anybody — I don’t know if other people, Chapel Hill or the county, did. Most people were supportive of truth telling and being honest about what the day actually represents.”
Snehal Parikh, a UNC junior, had not previously heard about Indigenous People’s Day, but thought it was a noble idea.
“Obviously, America was not founded by Christopher Columbus and to be able to be self-aware and say we’re going to redistribute power and reconnection where it’s due — that’s a beautiful thing,” he said.