Battle Creek

Battle Creek City Commission votes to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

Goodbye Columbus say the Battle Creek City Commissioners who unanimously approved a resolution during their meeting on Tuesday to replace the title Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day as the official name of the federal holiday.

The state of Michigan adopted the name change in October 2019 when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared the day to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day “to uplift our country’s indigenous roots, history, and contributions.”

Locally, City Commissioner Kate Flores took the lead on the work that led to the name change in Battle Creek. 

“It’s been on my radar for a long time,” Flores says. “I have known about and been aware and personally recognized and honored this as Indigenous Peoples’ Day for many years and it has been a goal of mine in Battle Creek for many years.” 

City Commissioner Kate Flores and City Manager Rebecca Fleury have been meeting with various committees along with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi about the name change for more than a year.She and City Manager Rebecca Fleury have been meeting with various committees along with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi about the name change for more than a year.

“The underlying organizing principle for me and my work on the commission is dignity for all people and all life and valuing the history and people of this place and valuing and telling accurate stories about the history of this place and the Pottawatomi people,” Flores says. “This is their ancestral land and we have descendants who are still here.

“They are actively participating in this community and it behooves us to honor the history and celebrate the indigenous peoples and the cultures broadly as well as specifically here in our community and our region.”

Jamie Stuck, NHBP Tribal Chairperson, says that his Tribe commends the City of Battle Creek and the City Commission on their vote to observe Indigenous Peoples Day. He says the decision comes amid a national movement to honor Native Americans, past and present, as well as their culture, history, and values, on a day formerly celebrated in name of the European explorer Christopher Columbus, who brought far more despair and injustice to the first inhabitants of the Americas than anything else.

“NHBP appreciates the positive relationship we share with the City of Battle Creek, evident not only by this adopted resolution but also the City’s commitment to consult with us on these types of issues and to portray accurate, culturally-appropriate Michigan Indian history,” Stuck says. “In 2018, the City of Battle Creek applied for funding from the Native American Heritage Fund, created by the NHBP, to replace a window medallion in city hall that depicted offensive imagery to Native Americans.

“Just this past August, the Battle Creek Regional History Museum unveiled an addition to their mural depicting the history of the City of Battle Creek to include Native Americans and their way of life, as the Anishnabék, the first people.”

Commissioner Lynn Ward Gray says Flores did the “heavy lifting” on the federal holiday's name change effort and put in a great deal of time to make it happen.

“It’s a recognition and an honor to say that we are partners together and recognize who you are and the ancestral ground that we walk upon and that will be part of our history,” Ward Gray says. “This is a recognition celebrating rich cultures and the contributions that the Tribe brings to our county both inside and outside.

In August, the Battle Creek Regional History Museum unveiled an addition to their mural depicting the history of the City of Battle Creek to include Native Americans and their way of life, as the Anishnabék, the first people. “This is an annual recognition of those facts and helps the rest of our residents know and celebrate that history on an annual basis.”

Fleury says the resolution and the work the city is doing will support and strengthen “our desire to be a welcoming community.”

“This Resolution is a step toward intentional work the city is doing around diversity, equity, and inclusion. The city is currently working with the Southwestern Michigan Urban League, African American Collaborative, and other community stakeholders to prepare a scope of work for an Equity Audit that will take place in 2021,” Fleury says. “Our work will be focused on the needs of the Battle Creek community as defined by the Battle Creek community.”

Flores says the city has great relationships with the NHBP and the two entities work very closely together. The resolution, she says, was the right and respectful thing to do for the city’s relationship with the Tribe.

“There is a specificity to Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a replacement for Columbus Day,” she says. “It’s an acknowledgment of the history and devastation of the colonization on indigenous people. We are making a choice about how we look at our history and this is an opportunity to celebrate indigenous cultures that have been here since time immemorial.”

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.
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