Cincinnati City Council Wednesday rejected a proclamation that would have recognized Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day — a loss that shocked supporters of the idea.
Five of council's nine members abstained from a vote on the proclamation, which was brought forward by Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who is running against Mayor John Cranley in next year's mayoral race.
As the votes were cast, Simpson sat stunned. The room was silent.
Items fail all the time. But not like this, with five abstentions. At City Hall, council members vote "no" when they are against something. And they are generally happy to talk about why.
"The work is not done," said Simpson after the vote. She added she was left with no choice but to think mayoral politics played a role in the defeat.
"What else could it be?" she said.
Cranley doesn't have a vote and he advanced the item to the council agenda. Earlier this week, he said he had no position on whether the proclamation should go forward.
The rejection comes just ahead of Columbus Day, which is Monday.
Voting for the proclamation: Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Wendell Young and Chris Seelbach, all Democrats.
Abstaining: Charlie Winburn and Amy Murray, both Republicans; David Mann, a Democrat; Independent Christopher Smitherman; and Kevin Flynn, who ran as a Charterite.
They didn’t comment on why they declined to cast a vote, except Winburn, who said he didn’t know enough about it.
Mann's vote was the biggest surprise, since he often votes with the Democratic majority. He declined to comment about why he abstained.
Seelbach didn't comment on the council floor, but said afterward he was disappointed.
"The Shawnee tribe once protected and lived off the land we now all call home," Seelbach said. "It's disappointing that a majority of City Council has no interest in recognizing and honoring their history. We've come so far on being an inclusive city. Refusing to recognize Native Americans sets us back."
Indigenous Peoples' Day is not a new idea. The idea was first broached in 1977 at the United Nations' International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. Since then there has been education about how Native American people suffered during American colonization — countering what many people learned about Christopher Columbus in grade school.
In 1992 the Berkeley, Calif., City Council symbolically renamed Columbus Day for indigenous people. Other cities have followed suit. The most recent adopters include Denver and Spokane, Wash.
The city's Human Relation Commission has been working on the idea for more than a year.
Native Americans make up less than 1% of the city's population, but Christina Brown, the CHRC's engagement coordinator, told Simpson's Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee Monday the "city should begin to be advocates for people who are forebears of our land."
Guy Jones, president of the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans, called the defeat "the prime example of why we need such a day."
"There is a tremendous amount of ignorance and arrogance about our history," Jones said. "We have been in a struggle for over 500 years. Even today we're left out."
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