Some States Dedicate Holiday to Indigenous People Instead of Columbus

Native Americans in some states have welcomed the change and said it was time to pay homage to Native Americans instead of Columbus

A handful of states are celebrating their first Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday as part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus.

New Mexico will be celebrating its inaugural statewide Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, as will Vermont, Maine, Louisiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Columbus Day remains a federal holiday, but over 100 cities, towns and college campuses have made the switch, NBC News reported.

Since 1992, Native American advocates have pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Columbus helped launched centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.

New Mexico is marking its statewide Indigenous Peoples Day with an invocation by several tribal leaders in unison in their native languages. There also will be a parade and traditional dances at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

"I think it's great and it's about time," said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres, a member of Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico.

State offices in Maine also are scheduled to close for the holiday. Maine, home to four federally recognized tribes, ditched Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day with an April bill signing by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

She said at the time she hoped the move would represent a move "toward healing, toward inclusiveness." Tribes in Maine have had a rocky relationship with the state government over the years, and the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes withdrew representatives to the Legislature in 2015, when Republican Gov. Paul LePage was in office.

The change to Indigenous Peoples Day prompted some backlash in conservative circles and among Italian Americans. University of Maine College Republicans, for example, have described the move as part of a "radical left-wing agenda."

And although Columbus sailed for the Spanish, his Italian heritage is a point of pride for some, and some advocates for Columbus Day have said they think Indigenous Peoples’ Day takes away a day to celebrate Italian culture.

Native Americans and advocates in some states have welcomed the change and said it was time to pay homage to Native Americans instead of Columbus — who for many was not simply an explorer, but someone who now represents an era of decimation.

Rich Holschuh, one of many people in Vermont who fought to get the day formally recognized, agrees. For Holschuh, who is of mixed Native ancestry, and the other Vermont organizers, formally recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is one of many ways to grapple with the country’s past and present treatment of Native people.

"Civic holidays are occasions for a society to come together, to recognize and observe our common values," Holschuh said. "Columbus is not to be celebrated."

Democratic New Mexico state Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, the sponsor of the New Mexico legislation that changed the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, said the day allows reflection on the United States' complicated history. Adopting the holiday, he said, provides some restorative justice for indigenous communities.

Associated Press reporter Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

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