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Bloomington Council To Consider Indigenous Peoples Day Ordinance

council members at a meeting
The Bloomington City Council met remotely on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday gave staff the OK to pursue the possibility of observing Indigenous Peoples Day each October, but not before a lengthy and sometimes testy discussion about the idea, and how it fits in with Columbus Day.

The council’s 7-2 vote means staff will draft a proposed ordinance for consideration at a later date. Ward 2’s Donna Boelen and Ward 9’s Kim Bray voted "no." 

Also at Monday's remote meeting, the council seated its newest member, Mollie Ward of Ward 7, and approved plans for a nearly $25.6 million tax levy that shows a flat tax rate compared with last year, and set a public hearing before final adoption on Dec. 7. 

Columbus Day, which honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, is not officially observed by the city. So Indigenous Peoples Day would not replace that. However, a related proposal—for drafting a resolution encouraging other governing bodies to remove their Columbus Day observances—also may come before the council.

A few council members expressed concern that switching the nation’s attention from Columbus to indigenous people amounted to erasing history. But most supported the idea, especially if it arrives in a way that mirrors how the city approached its recent Juneteenth ordinance, that recognizes the end of slavery in America.

“This is not about cancel culture,” said Ward 6 council member Jenn Carrillo, who proposed creating the holiday, and eliminating mentions of Columbus in city documents. 

Carrillo said more than 130 cities in 14 states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. 

Ward 4 council member Julie Emig pointed out the city issued a proclamation in October 2019 recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day. But she encouraged the council to bridge this formal document with a venture similar to Juneteenth. Of Bloomington's approach to the June event, she said, “It really does focus on education and reconciliation."

Emig also discussed some communities opting for Indigenous Peoples Day as well as an Italian Americans Day, as a way to get away from celebrating Columbus, whose morality has been questioned.

Carrillo said she could support a separate day to honor Italian Americans, but disagreed with some critics who have called for parallel celebrations of both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day, calling that a contradiction of values.

“As a city, we can’t say we care about the past and future of indigenous people while continuing to celebrate a man who embodies the brutalities of colonialism and horrors of genocide,” she said.

Boelen said she thinks a more constructive way to deal with the matter is for people to address school boards, if that is where the Columbus Day holiday still is being observed.

Bray said residents in Ward 9 have reached out to her, and they overwhelmingly are against ending Columbus Day.

“They don’t agree with this methodology of decrying certain cultures or people in this way,” she said, adding they’d rather give a separate day to honor Indigenous people.

Prior to discussion of the measure, public comments, mostly in favor of the Indigenous Peoples Day proposal, filled the allotted 30-minute period. More than a dozen people spoke, and several more emailed the council prior to Monday’s meeting.

Several commenters also renewed calls for the city to pass a Welcoming Cities ordinance that would limit local law enforcement’s involvement with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).

They said this year’s attention on racial injustice in the United States highlights the connections among ordinances concerning people of color -- such as Juneteenth, honoring enslaved Africans, and the proposals for welcoming immigrants, and honoring Indigenous people.

Commenter Katie Hoy urged the council to adopt the proposal.

“The City of Bloomington should take pride in leading the way by honoring a group of Americans without which our country would not be what it is,” she said, noting several contributions Native Americans have made to our civilization.

“Recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day officially is a crucial step in making reparations for the violence and horror we ungratefully brought to the human beings living here before us,” she said.

Matt Tozcko, who said he was a lifelong Bloomington resident, also wants to make the holiday official. 

He said even if the city doesn’t officially celebrate Columbus Day, it has been observed for far too long in the United States, including in school districts such as Bloomington’s District 87. 

“Now that the knowledge of (Columbus's) egregious abuses is highly accessible and more and more people’s eyes are opened to his murderous slaver ambitions, it would be a dereliction of human decency,” to not proactively switch to an Indigenous Peoples Day, said Tosco. 

A few commenters also criticized the council for not publicly decrying continued social media attacks on council member Carrillo’s heritage and immigration status. 

That very problem materialized during comments, when a few people speaking against the Indigenous Peoples proposal also criticized Carrillo.

Surena Fish and Becky Swan spoke against the proposed holiday, and specifically against Carrillo’s involvement in the matter. 

Fish, who said she is a descendant of Native Americans, questioned whether a U.S. immigrant had the right to make calls for a day honoring people native to the United States.

Carrillo is an immigrant. Swan continued attacks on the alderwoman, questioning her patriotism to America.

Ward 8 council member Jeff Crabill, who said his spouse is an immigrant, called Fish's comments offensive and disgusting.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, Carrillo addressed the commenters, noting over the past several months she has endured conspiracy theory-type attacks on whether her citizenship is legitimate. She said she appreciated other commenters asking for public scrutiny of such attacks.

2020 estimated tax levy

The $25.6 million estimated 2020 tax levy incorporates both the city’s $20.6 million estimate, and about $5 million for the Bloomington Public Library. The property tax rate in the city has remained flat, at about 1.4%, for several years, said Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason. That amount figures for about 15% of a city resident’s total property tax bill, he said. 

Bloomington’s finance chief Scott Rathbun said about 13 cents represents Bloomington’s share, and 3 cents BPL’s. (District 87 accounts for about 61 cents of each property tax dollar.) The total estimate is based on 2020 equalized assessed values, but the real amount of revenue received may be slightly higher or lower when the exact rate is finalized in January, he said.

Equalized assessed value is about a third of a home’s value. So, for the owner of a $165,000, that person is taxed on $55,000 EAV, he said. Assuming the tax rate comes to $1.40 per $100 of assessed value, that homeowner would pay about $744 of their total tax bill to Bloomington. 

Nearly half the $25.6 million revenue pays for police and fire budgets, and about 20% goes to cover the library’s budget, said Rathbun. 

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a contract with Republic Services for up to $75,000 for trash disposal of “non special waste materials” and waived formal bidding requirements on the matter.
  • Remembered Barb Adkins, Bloomington's former deputy city manager, who died this weekend.
  • Approved a zoning map amendment for 14 acres in the Harvest Point Subdivision on Illinois 9, changing it from commercial to mixed use. 
  • Approved a Class EAS liquor license for Grossinger Motors Arena, allowing sales for entertainment, all types of alcohol, and Sunday sales.
  • Learned Justin Boyd has been appointed to the Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Greg Koos to the Historic Preservation Board.

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Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.