The scales of historical perspective may ease toward balance tonight in Lawrence when city commissioners consider proclaiming the day set aside for Christopher Columbus as "American Indian Day."
"I believe that it's appropriate that on the day that is typically reserved for Columbus, that we take the time to consider the other people involved when Columbus arrived in this country," Mayor Bob Schulte said this morning.
"This community has, as a part of its diversity, a considerable Native American population, and we need to be sensitive to their concerns," Schulte said.
The mayor is scheduled to proclaim Monday Columbus Day as "American Indian Day" at tonight's Lawrence City Commission meeting.
The meeting will get under way at 6:35 p.m. in the city commission meeting room at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.
The proclamation comes at the request of Haskell Indian Junior College, which has an enrollment of more than 900 students representing 140 Indian nations.
"We need to recognize that there were indigenous people here tens of thousands of years before Columbus arrived," said Dan Wildcat, chair of Haskell's department of natural and social sciences.
"We might use that day to think about the first Americans, those that greeted Christopher Columbus when he arrived," Wildcat said.
"American Indian Day" would fall on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas.
Haskell's request comes as historians debate whether to brand Columbus a hero for discovering a new home for Europeans, or a villain for introducing an exploitive culture and devastating diseases to Indians.
Wildcat said that he felt the debate boiled down to individual perspectives.
"If I'm a European person . . . I would have to come to the conclusion that the results were positive," he said.
"It opened up places for people who were persecuted. It introduced them to high protein vegetables, which Indians had been growing for thousands of years."
"But if you were a part of a native family here, if your family was enslaved . . . this begins a period of invasion. It begins a period of biological devastation, with the introduction of European diseases," he said.
The Haskell request is not an attempt at "political correctness," designed to shift the emphasis of Columbus Day, he said.
"We're talking about historical accuracy," he said. "I think it's an attempt to gain some balance in terms of how we think of this day," Wildcat said.
Commissioners Bob Schumm and Shirley Martin-Smith said they thought the proclamation was appropriate and not cultural politicking.
"It sounds like we're just expanding the idea of Columbus Day. I think it's very appropriate," Schumm said.
"This really isn't any different from when we (recognize) February (as) `Black History Month'," Martin-Smith said. "We celebrate cultures all year long. It's the spirit of the request that is important."