Los Angeles is Largest U.S. City to Replace Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples’ Day

By Sameer Rao Aug 31, 2017

Hundreds of Native activists and their allies packed Los Angeles City Hall yesterday (August 30) to watch and celebrate the city council’s 14-1 vote to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The Los Angeles Times reported that city councilors resolved to turn the second Monday of October into a city holiday that recognizes the country’s Native peoples who endured and resisted colonial genocide. Indigenous Peoples’ Day replaces the the federal holiday dedicated to the Italian navigator, whose accidental 1492 Caribbean landing kicked off centuries of ethnic cleansing. The Los Angeles Daily News adds that the city must implement the new holiday by 2019. 

Native News Online reports that Los Angeles city councilor Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Nation tribe, originally introduced the resolution. The Times quotes him as saying that yesterday’s decision will provide some "restorative justice" to Native communities.

The vote came after what the Times describes as "a fractious hearing, with Italian Americans and Native Americans cheering and jeering at different moments." Councilor Joe Buscaino, the resolution’s lone "nay" voter, encapsulated the objections of local Italian-American civic groups who see Christopher Columbus as a community pioneer. The Times says Buscaino asked his colleagues not to “cure one offense with another" and unsuccessfully advocated recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day on August 9, the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Buscaino and the opposed civic groups’ views originate in early-1900s Italian-American activism that The Atlantic says uplifted Christopher Columbus in protest of widespread anti-Italian xenophobia. 

O’Farrell countered Buscaino’s arguments by saying the resolution will recognize October 12, the day of Columbus’ Caribbean landfall, as "Italian American Heritage Day." “We are not creating a racial conflict,” he added. “We are ending one.”

Native activists in attendance agreed. Joseph Quintana, development director for local advocacy organization United American Indian Involvement, told The Times that Columbus Day ignores Native communities’ history and ongoing oppression while uplifting European colonial narratives: “We’ve been erased from education. We’ve been erased from the history books."

Los Angeles is the largest in a list of U.S. cities—including Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis and Berkeley—that honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Time Magazine notes that Indigenous Peoples’ Day first crystallized at the 1990 Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador. Northern California Native groups who attended brought the idea to Berkeley city government, launching activism and legislation that made Berkeley the first U.S. city to replace Columbus Day in 1992.  

Relive yesterday’s historic vote with these Twitter photos and videos of the ceremonial processions and rallies that accompanied it: