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Washington, D.C., approves emergency measure renaming holiday ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 13, 2019

By Dana Hedgpeth The Washington Post

Washington, D.C., and other jurisdictions near the nation’s capital have passed legislation to change the Columbus Day name in honor of Native Americans.

D.C. Councilman David Grosso proposed emergency legislation last week — which the council supported Tuesday — to rename Monday’s holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Alexandria and Prince George’s County made similar moves, joining states and jurisdictions across the country that have argued that Christopher Columbus and other colonizers oppressed the native people already living in the Americas when Europeans arrived.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser signed the legislation Friday.

Grosso said last week on Twitter that he proposed the legislation to “force a vote of the full Council to finally do the right thing by ending the celebration of the misleading narrative of Christopher Columbus on the second Monday in October in honor of #IndigenousPeoplesDay.”

Grosso, who also opposes the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, has helped to push a similar bill for the past five years. The legislation passed last week changes the name only for this year, but Grosso said he hopes to make it permanent.

“It’s important for us to recognize the people who were already here before we came over from Europe,” Grosso said. “Too often we’ve done a bad job recognizing Native Americans and given too much credit to Columbus.”

The legislation says Columbus “enslaved, colonized, mutilated, and massacred thousands of Indigenous People in the Americas.” It says the holiday to honor him is “in reverence to a divisive figure whose actions against Indigenous People run counter to the values of equality, diversity, and inclusion — values that the District of Columbia has long embodied — and serves only to perpetuate hate and oppression, in contrast to the values the District espouses on a daily basis.”

Columbus Day, named for the Italian explorer, is celebrated annually on the second Monday in October. The federal holiday recognizes Columbus’s landing in 1492 in the Americas. It first was celebrated as a federal holiday in the 1930s.

The D.C.-area jurisdictions are among several states and local governments across the country that have recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day, acknowledging harm done to Native Americans and celebrating their history. In the past decade, more than 130 cities have declared Columbus Day as Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The National Congress of American Indians, an advocacy group that represents Native American tribal governments and Alaska Native groups, applauded the District’s name change for the holiday.

“In a city that itself sits on Piscataway land, we commend the D.C. Council for voting to join the growing number of cities, counties, states, and school districts in formally celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” NCAI chief executive Kevin Allis said in a statement. “It also acknowledges American Indians and Alaska Natives as thriving, contemporary sovereign nations who hold their rightful place among the American family of governments.”

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