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FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Senate approved a measure to have Indigenous Peoples' Day replace Columbus Day in the state.

Senators voted 22-15 in favor of House Bill 100 on March 15, a day before lawmakers concluded the 60-day session in Santa Fe.

The bill moves to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her consideration.

New Mexico would join Alaska, Minnesota and Vermont in eliminating Columbus Day observations in October if the measure is signed into law

It had passed the House on Feb. 7 with a vote of 50-12.

Senators spent more than an hour discussing the bill in comments that applauded the proposal as well as labeling it as "divisive."

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said the proposal divides rather than unifies communities.

"The reason that Columbus is celebrated is because he was the first step to the culture that we have today in America," Sharer said.

Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said he understood the reason behind the proposal but found it difficult to vote for or against it because his constituency consists of Italian Americans and members of Sandia Pueblo.

"I have a lot of people who feel there was positiveness that they feel based on Columbus Day," Sapien said.

New Mexico is home to four tribes and 19 pueblos.

Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, presented the bill to the Senate and explained part of its purpose is to recognize challenges tribes and pueblos face, including sustaining languages and cultures and protecting sacred sites.

"We fight every day. …I think this bill is part of that, to recognize Indigenous peoples of this state and of this country," Shendo said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez praised the bill's passage, stating the proposal was overdue.

Nez said in comments released by his office that the federal government created Columbus Day in 1937 without input from Native Americans.

"For many years, Indigenous people have protested Columbus Day because it celebrates colonialism, oppression and injustice inflicted on Indigenous peoples. Observing Indigenous Peoples' Day allows citizens to recognize our rich heritage and serves as a step toward healing and growth," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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