Mayor Lightfoot says she won’t support eliminating Columbus Day despite CPS decision

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CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she has no plans in following Chicago Public Schools' decision in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day and eliminating Columbus Day.

On Thursday, the Board of Education voted to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day as other cities and school districts have done. The board’s vote on the issue was 5-2.

"I think this is important for all of our school communities and I think it’s the right thing to do now,” board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said.

The school holiday will be on Oct. 12 this year. For years, CPS has celebrated both days in October.

"I've spend time with the folks from the American Indian Center but I do think that we have to do more to make sure we are aware and sensitive of the history, but I have absolutely no plans to support any elimination of Columbus Day at the city level," Lightfoot said.

The holiday has been controversial because the day has been used to commemorate Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who claimed to have discovered the region now known as the Americas in 1492. The area was already populated by indigenous people and some have argued that Columbus’ actions led to their genocide.

CPS is working to develop new curriculum to more accurately tell the history of Native American cultures.

Those opposed to renaming the holiday argue that the day is meant for celebrating Italian heritage and historical contributions.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) said he was happy to hear about the mayor’s thoughts. He said he doesn’t have a problem with Indigenous Peoples Day, but said it just can’t be on Columbus Day.

“They should have their own day if they want it,” he said. “Why would they want to share something?”

Sposato said Italians in the city would go to war if there were a change and wonders what happens next. 

“Where does this stop?” he said. “We’re going to start with Columbus, then we’re going to go on to the presidents. We’re going to take all the statues down of the presidents. Every president that had slaves.”

The alderman said he has no problem with teaching the entire history of Columbus — both the good and the bad. He also said maybe the city could pick another Italian to celebrate. 

The president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, Sergio Giangrande, said Thursday that CPS’s decision was “a slap in the face of the more than 500-thousand Italian Americans in Chicago, and the 135-million Italians worldwide.”

Cities and states across the country have already replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Berkeley, California; Albuquerque, New Mexico; St. Paul, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; Olympia, Washington; and Seattle, Washington are some of the cities already participating in Indigenous Peoples Day.

In 2017, a man was arrested after he vandalized the Christopher Columbus statue in the University Village/Little Italy neighborhood.

Giangrande said the organization is challenging CPS’s decision and has started a campaign to reverse the renaming of the day.

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