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DC Joins Eight States, 100+ Cities in Swapping Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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A girl carries a sign on Hollywood Boulevard during an event celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 8, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. David McNew/Getty Images

This second Monday in October, the nation's capital won't celebrate Columbus Day. Instead, it will join at least eight states and more than 100 other cities in celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day, ABC News reported.


The change was passed by the DC Council Tuesday after a supermajority voted in support of Councilmember David Grosso's "Indigenous Peoples' Day Emergency Declaration Act of 2019," as WAMU 88.5 reported. If it is signed by Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, it will go into effect in time for Monday.

"Columbus enslaved, colonized, mutilated, and massacred thousands of Indigenous People in the Americas," Grosso said in a statement Monday announcing the proposal. "We cannot continue to allow this history to be celebrated as a holiday in the District of Columbia. The government of the District of Columbia is clear that we are a government that values equality, diversity, and inclusion. Continuing to observe a holiday built on the celebration of oppression runs counter to those values."

Grosso noted that DC is not alone in making this change: Maine, New Mexico, Vermont, North Carolina, Alaska, South Dakota, Oregon and at least 130 cities and towns had also done so when he wrote the statement Monday. On Tuesday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) added to that list by signing an executive order making his state the eighth to switch to Indigenous Peoples' Day, according to The Hill.

Other DC-area towns and counties have also already changed the day's name, The Washington Post reported. Alexandria, Virginia and Prince George's County in Maryland both did so in September.

"This move is not controversial," Grosso said.

Still, he has struggled for five years to pass it through the DC Council because it has been stalled by Chairman Phil Mendelson, Grosso said. And Tuesday's vote is only a temporary fix, as WAMU explained:

The Council voted on two versions of the bill — emergency and temporary. Once signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, the emergency legislation puts the measure into immediate action, without need for congressional approval or second reading, for 90 days, according to the D.C. Council site.

The temporary legislation has a shelf life of 225 days and requires congressional approval — meaning that as of now the bill is active until around mid-May 2020. If no permanent legislation is produced by Oct. 14, 2020, the name of the holiday will return to Columbus Day.

Grosso is hoping that passing the temporary change will lead to a vote on permanent legislation.

"I hope now Chairman Mendelson will recognize the overwhelming support on the Council for this important renaming and finally hold a hearing on the permanent version of the bill," Grosso told WAMU.

While the bill did enjoy large support, two councilmembers abstained: Mendelson and Councilmember Jack Evans.

"I fully support the establishment of Indigenous Peoples' Day, but what I don't support is eliminating Columbus Day," Evans said at the meeting, as ABC News reported. "I have gotten a number of emails, a number of calls, from constituents in my ward, largely of Italian descent, who feel that taking this action is not fair."

Columbus Day has become a chance for Italian Americans to celebrate their heritage, as The New York Times explained. On Monday, the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) put out a statement opposing the legislation.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), however, applauded the DC Council's decision.

"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 reported by The Washington Post. "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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