Indigenous Peoples to share holiday with Columbus in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — The second Monday of October will now stand for two holidays in Utah’s capital city.

The Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to declare the date Indigenous Peoples’ Day, alongside Columbus Day.

The vote was met with cheers and applause from a crowd of supporters, following a rally on the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building, where members of the Utah League of Native American Voters sang, prayed and drummed in honor of their ancestors.

"Celebrating the two holidays the same day is a way to inform our understanding of each’s contributions to our national fabric without demeaning the significance of either," City Council Chairman Stan Penfold said prior to the vote.

Moroni Benally, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters, called the holiday declaration a "symbolic" change that empowers his people. He said Columbus Day has "erased" his ancestors, but with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, his people have a new place in history.

"This change, while symbolic, is about recognizing the contributions, history and sacrifices made by the original inhabitants of the area," Benally said in a statement. "It is about correcting history and building a stronger country."

The Utah League of Native American Voters prompted the new Salt Lake City holiday, sponsored by City Councilman Charlie Luke. Salt Lake joins 26 cities across the country that has adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the league said in a news release.

James Sanger, a member of the Utah League of Native American Voters, said Columbus did "usher in an age of so-called discovery," but his people also committed violent acts against indigenous people. Sanger said Utahns must "deal with the uncomfortable truths of the past."

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day "is the least that can be done," he said.

The City Council’s declaration still recognizes the second Monday in October as Columbus Day, a federal holiday, to honor Christopher Columbus "and the contributions today of Italian Americans and their history," Penfold said.

The Italian-American Civic League last month sent a letter to the council opposing a resolution that would change or reject Columbus Day, calling it an "uncalled-for affront to our culture."

While keeping Columbus Day intact, the council’s vote also keeps with the state-declared Indigenous People Day the Monday before Thanksgiving and the state’s declaration of November as Native American Heritage Month, Penfold said.

Last year, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, sponsored a bill to designate the second Monday of October Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a state holiday, but the bill failed on the Senate floor.

Dabakis joined the crowd of supporters in front of City Hall on Tuesday, saying to cheers, "What the hell did Columbus do for Utah anyway?"

He also urged Native American Utahns to vote, noting that the Utah Legislature has yet to see a Native American be elected as a legislator.

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