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Columbus Day will be Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time in D.C. this year

Lawmakers passed emergency legislation Tuesday to make the change

A five-story Beaux Arts building seen from across the street. There are a few trees and flags on light poles out front.
John A. Wilson Building, the seat of the District government
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Update, October 11:

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed a bill formally recognizing next Monday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus Day. In a statement Friday, the bill’s introducer, At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, noted that Bowser’s “signature furthers the effort to honor native populations and end the celebration of the false narrative of Christopher Columbus.”

As the legislation was filed in an expedited form, it applies only to October 14, 2019, and not subsequent years. “What will be the District’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day will hopefully not be its last,” Grosso added. “Given the overwhelming support on the [D.C.] Council, I continue to urge Chairman [Phil] Mendelson to hold a hearing and advance the permanent version of the legislation.” Eight lawmakers floated that version last April but it has not moved forward.

Original post, October 8:

The District will celebrate next Monday as “Indigenous People’s Day” instead of Columbus Day under a fast-tracked bill the D.C. Council approved Tuesday. The emergency legislation redesignates October 14, 2019 to recognize the contributions of Native Americans, as many other jurisdictions, including Maine, New Mexico, Vermont, and North Carolina, have done.

The vote came during a regular Council meeting and won the support of a supermajority of councilmembers. Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans voted “present” on the measure, with Evans saying some of his Italian-American constituents had raised concerns about changing the name. Because the bill was emergency legislation, it was not subject to a hearing and will last only for 90 days; a permanent version remains pending.

“Columbus Day was officially designated as a federal holiday in 1937 despite the fact that Columbus did not discover North America, despite the fact that millions of people were already living in North America upon his arrival in the Americas, and despite the fact that Columbus never set foot on the shores of the current United States,” said David Grosso, the at-large councilmember who authored the legislation, in a statement. “Columbus enslaved, colonized, mutilated, and massacred thousands of Indigenous People in the Americas. We cannot continue to allow this history to be celebrated as a holiday in the District.” Previous similar bills have lagged since 2015. Nacotchtank Native Americans used to live in the area.

It’s unclear when the permanent legislation will move forward. The Council’s committee of the whole, which Mendelson chairs, would have to set a hearing on it prior to further votes. Mayor Muriel Bowser will have the opportunity to review the emergency version of the bill.