MANKATO — A city with one of the darkest moments in America's long history of conflict between the people who were here first and those who came later, Mankato will become the latest to mark the second Monday in October not as Columbus Day but as Indigenous Peoples Day.
Nearly 50 people broke out in applause late Monday night when the City Council voted 6-1 to officially create the new holiday "and encourage other businesses, organizations and public entities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day annually on the second Monday of October."
There was no direct mention by proponents nor by the council members of Dec. 26, 1862, when 38 Dakota men were hanged in the largest mass execution in United States history on a scaffold about 500 feet from the City Council chambers. But there were numerous references to the efforts starting nearly 50 years ago to bring reconciliation between current Mankatoans and descendants of the Dakota.
Al Lawrence, son of Bud Lawrence, didn't speak at the council meeting, but his presence was noted as his father was remembered. Bud Lawrence, working with Dakota spiritual leader Amos Owen, brought about the 1972 pow wow that continues annually.
"If Bud was here, he would support this," said Dave Brave Heart, who led the petition drive that culminated in Monday's decision. "... I think your decision here tonight is important. It's important for the next seven generations."
Father Joe Fogal, a Catholic priest with long ties to the city, said Mankatoans historically tended to rationalize what happened in 1862 after the Dakota were defeated in an armed conflict against white settlers and the U.S. Army: "We were defending ourselves."
Fogal, though, recalled a visit to Iowa by Pope John Paul II in 1979.
"One of the first things he did was apologize to the Native Americans for what the church did to them," Fogal said of the efforts by missionaries to strip them of their culture and beliefs. "... There is a need for that reconciliation and healing."
Diane Dobitz joined the effort to bring Indigenous Peoples Day to Mankato after hearing Brave Heart speak at her church. Dobitz said the new holiday can be evidence that the descendants of the Europeans who created the United States have developed a deeper understanding of their history.
"We stand on their shoulders. We can see farther than they did ...," she said. "I hope we can do better, together."
The proposal brought to the council via petition on April 23 didn't survive in its entirety, with city staff dropping a strong repudiation of Christopher Columbus.
Removed from the resolution was the following clause: "Whereas, starting in 1492, Christopher Columbus and his men committed untold atrocities against Indigenous Peoples and thus began the exploitation and dispossession of Indigenous Peoples whose lands were taken for the formation of the United States of which Mankato, Minnesota is a part."
Even with the removal of the references to Columbus, Mayor Eric Anderson said he couldn't support the resolution because "it's specifically targeting that date in October."
"I'm not here to support, condemn or condone...," Anderson said. "Human beings make mistakes."
Council member Dennis Dieken also said that he didn't want Indigenous Peoples Day to be seen as a replacement of Columbus Day but as an additional holiday in the spirit of inclusiveness.
Council member Mark Frost noted that there's nothing in the resolution that prohibits Mankatoans from remembering the Italian explorer.
"It you want to talk about Columbus, talk about him," Frost said. "... If you want to talk about Indigenous Peoples, we live with them. We don't live with Columbus anymore."
Mankato would be far from an early adopter of the idea, joining Minnesota cities such as Minneapolis, St. Paul, Red Wing and Two Harbors and national cities including Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver and Phoenix.
And Council President Mike Laven, who made the motion to officially recognize the day in Mankato, said Monday's action is only a piece of a decades-long effort that must continue.
"We're one step closer," Laven said. "I say that because we have a lot to do. We have a lot more to do as a community for a lot of people."
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the council vote was 5-2.