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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Which holiday honors Native Americans?

The Spokane City Council will probably spend part of Monday’s meeting arguing whether changing Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples Day” is an exercise in cultural sensitivity or political correctness.

In fact, it’s an exercise in redundancy. Which is not to say that indigenous folks don’t deserve plenty of recognition. But still.

Washington already has a date dedicated to honoring the first inhabitants of the hemisphere. It’s called Native American Heritage Day, and is officially celebrated on the day after the fourth Thursday in November. Also known as the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The Legislature passed that law in 2014 with a unanimous vote in the Senate and a 93-5 vote count in the House, which was pretty impressive considering 2014 was a fairly contentious year. The prime sponsor was Sen. John McCoy, a member of the Tulalip Tribe and one of the few Native Americans to serve in the Legislature. Took him four tries, but he got the bill passed.

Part of the discussion at the time revolved around the right day to honor Native Americans. Seattle already had changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day – a fact that by itself could doom the idea in Spokane. Some Native Americans weren’t too thrilled about having a day honoring their heritage tied to Thanksgiving. That day isn’t as much cause for celebration among some Indians as it is for Americans of European descent, considering things worked out much better for the Pilgrims and other white people than for the Wampanoags and other Indians.

But the day after Thanksgiving was already a state and school holiday, it just didn’t have a name. Dubbing it Native American Heritage Day meant some people would have the day off. And as any kid can attest, it’s not much of a holiday if they have to go to school.

Columbus Day has fallen into the realm of “not much of a holiday” in the state. Students will be in class. Some banks may be closed on Oct. 10 this year, even though Columbus actually spotted land on Oct. 12, 1492. That’s a Wednesday this year and Americans love their three-day weekends. 

About the only sign that Columbus Day is a holiday in Spokane is motorists don’t have to feed parking meters, apparently because the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria got to park free in the Caribbean.

That may be the biggest obstacle for Spokane going with Native American Heritage Day rather than Indigenous Peoples Day. Native American Heritage Day is also Black Friday, and the city may be reluctant to give up its downtown meter revenue for the biggest retail shopping day of the year.


Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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