Sacramento proposed Indigenous People’s Day in October – until Italian Americans objected

Christopher Columbus kneeling, holding a flag and sword with two other men holding flags upon arriving to America. There are other men on land and in boats behind Columbus and three ships in background.
Christopher Columbus kneeling, holding a flag and sword with two other men holding flags upon arriving to America. There are other men on land and in boats behind Columbus and three ships in background.

After backlash from local Italian Americans, the Sacramento City Council this week shelved a plan to make Christopher Columbus share his October holiday with indigenous people.

Councilman Eric Guerra, who introduced the resolution last week, on Tuesday removed the provision creating an Indigenous People’s Day that fell on Columbus Day. Instead, he asked city staff to find calendar dates for separate days honoring Native Americans and Italian Americans.

As part of the same resolution, the City Council backed protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline who say the oil project poses environmental dangers to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

The Columbus Day compromise was hammered out last week between local representatives of the Native American and Italian American communities.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Bill Cerruti, director of the Italian Cultural Society of Sacramento, who spoke in favor of the plan on Tuesday. “I was jazzed about the whole thing, the whole outcome,” he said after the meeting.

Cerruti said local Italian Americans “softened up” council members during a weeklong push of meetings, phone calls and emails after The Sacramento Bee reported last week that the council was considering turning the second Monday in October into Indigenous People’s Day. That date marks the federal Columbus Day holiday; the city does not observe it.

Although the city intended to keep both celebrations on the calendar, Cerruti said some people in his community weren’t happy about the suggestion.

But Guerra facilitated a conference call in which Native American and Italian American community members reached the compromise, Cerruti said.

Guerra said the Columbus controversy “sparked an inspiring conversation,” that led to both groups acknowledging “that we need to recognize each others’ cultures.”

In the same resolution, the City Council agreed to formally oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline being built from North Dakota to Illinois.

In recent weeks, protesters near Standing Rock Sioux land have faced off against police in an attempt to change the route of the $3.8 billion pipeline. Opponents include a recent contingent of 2,000 veterans, including some from Sacramento, who traveled to the site to in support of the action.

On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave protesters a victory when it rejected a necessary land easement to pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners until further studies are done.

Protesters remain at the site, fearful the decision could be reversed when President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January. They maintain that the pipeline poses a risk to water safety as well as disturbing sacred Native American grounds.

Sacramento City Council members were split Tuesday on the motion, voting 5-2 to pass it after debate and public comment.

Councilman Jeff Harris opposed the Sacramento resolution, saying that it was beyond the “purview” of the city to make judgments on the Dakota Access project. He said that America is still dependent on oil.

“We’re all going to be using oil, every one of us in this room,” he said. “We have to be very realistic about what form of oil we are going to use and how it is transported.”

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said that she was “proud of a city that within a week’s time can turn around and support people in a different part of the country.”

Ashby strongly supported the measure when it first appeared before the council last week. She said she was swayed by a local Sioux woman who had been to Standing Rock but was unable to return. Ashby said during the meeting that she was impacted by the local connection to the issue.

Activist Liliana Mendoza, 23, said she was especially happy with Councilman Allen Warren’s decision to support the measure, a shift that came late in the debate on Tuesday.

“It was a significant turn,” she said. “I think that’s what this is all about, being human ... that was encouraging.”

Tami Greeson, of Brentwood joined a large group protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Hundreds of people protested Tuesday in downtown Sacramento against the construction of an oil pipeline in the Dakotas near tribal land. Protests have been ongo

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa