We Celebrate Columbus Day. Why Not Observe Indigenous People's Day?

The cradle of Los Angeles, Olvera Street
The cradle of Los Angeles, Olvera Street

Columbus Day celebrates the discovery of America.

But how can you discover something that already had people, culture and history?

It's a question L.A. City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell has been asking for months. Yesterday the City Council's Arts, Parks and River Committee moved his proposal to create an Indigenous People's Day in L.A. one step closer to reality.

The committee ordered city staffers to report back in two months about how this can happen and how much it would cost.

Indigenous People's Day would be only a city holiday, however. Unless you get a city paycheck, your own observance would be optional.

California dropped Columbus Day as a state holiday in 2009.

Under the proposal, Indigenous People's Day could replace the city's observance of Columbus Day, which happens the second Monday in October. Or it could become an additional paid holiday, which could create extra costs for municipal taxpayers.

Last November the city celebrated American Indian Heritage Month.

Native, Mexican, Spanish and Afro-Mexican people were all integral in the founding of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula around 1781.

So it could be seen as strange that we honor a European who never set foot here while giving our own settlers much less thought.

"Los Angeles is the most culturally diverse city in the United States, and we must find a way to honor the profound sacrifices made by countless tribal members through the centuries," O'Farrell said. "This is about righting one of the greatest slights that any ethnic group has ever had to endure. It’s important that we do something really significant, that we do something more meaningful, that grounds us even further and provides the full context of who we are."

Some critics who have re-examined American history have painted Europeans like Columbus as explorers who have contributed to mass violence against indigenous people. On the other hand, some proud Italian-Americans want to preserve Columbus Day as a holiday.

O’Farrell, by the way, is a member of the Wyandotte Native American tribe, his office says.


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