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Some States Marking Their First Indigenous Peoples' Day

(AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

A handful of states are celebrating their first Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday as part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus. From Minnesota to Vermont, at least five states and Washington, D.C. have done away with Columbus Day celebrations in deference to Native Americans, though the federal Columbus holiday remains in place.

Since 1992, Native American advocates have pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day over concerns that Columbus helped launched centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas. New Mexico is marking its statewide Indigenous Peoples’ Day with an invocation by several tribal leaders in unison in their Native languages. There also will be a parade and traditional dances at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “I think it’s great and it’s about time,” said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres, who is a member of Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico.

State offices in Maine also are scheduled to close in honor of the holiday. Maine, home to four federally recognized tribes, ditched Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day with an April bill signing by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. She said at the time she hoped the move would represent a move “toward healing, toward inclusiveness.” Tribes in Maine have had a rocky relationship with the state government over the years, and the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes withdrew representatives to the legislature in 2015, when Republican Gov. Paul LePage was in office.

The change to Indigenous People’s Day prompted some backlash in conservative circles and among Italian Americans. UMaine College Republicans, for example, have described the move as part of a “radical left-wing agenda.” But Native Americans in some states have welcomed the change and said it was time to pay homage to Native Americans instead of Columbus. Democratic New Mexico state Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, the sponsor of the New Mexico legislation that changed the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, said the day allows reflection on the United States’ complicated history. He said adopting the holiday provides some restorative justice for Indigenous communities.