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Columbus Day's days might be numbered in Bemidji

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BEMIDJI -- Bemidji may soon join several other Minnesota cities in replacing Columbus Day with a day recognizing American Indians.

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The Minneapolis City Council voted Friday to use Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day on all city communications, although it will continue to recognize Columbus Day for legal purposes. On Monday, the city of Red Wing decided to rename Columbus Day as "Chief Red Wing Day."

Minneapolis' switch has sparked interest in a similar move for Bemidji. Michael Meuers of Shared Vision, also known as the Bemidji Area Race Relations Council, said Tuesday that American Indians may find Columbus' legacy as the man who supposedly discovered America to be problematic. Among other reasons, the native population had already been calling America home many years beforehand.

"We were 'discovered'? C'mon," Meuers said.

Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Bemidji would foster discussion between whites and Indians about each group's culture, Meuers said. He pointed to a 2009 Shared Vision/ WIlder Research/Headwaters Regional Development Commission survey of Bemidji residents that said more than 90 percent of respondents wanted to learn more about people from other cultures.

"This is another way to show respect, to facilitate conversation.... to find out that the history of Bemidji began before 1895, when it was incorporated," he said of the potential holiday switch.

John Chattin, treasurer of Shared Vision and Bemidji's city manager, said the matter would likely come up at the group's next meeting May 20.

"I think anything we can do to recognize the Native American population is positive," he said.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht said Monday that if Shared Vision approves the measure it could then bring it forward to the city for consideration.

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