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FARMINGTON — The sponsor of a bill that made New Mexico the latest state to repeal Columbus Day as a state holiday and replace it with Indigenous Peoples' Day commended the governor for signing the change into law.

The Navajo Nation's top elected officials this week said the change was long overdue.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed House bill 100 on Tuesday. It goes into effect on July 1.

Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1937. Many view it as a way to honor the Italian explorer. Calls for its repeal have increased since Indigenous Peoples' Day was first discussed in a 1977 United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

New Mexico is home to 19 pueblos and to the Navajo Nation, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Rio Arriba, Sandoval and San Juan, sponsored the bill and commended Lujan Grisham's action Tuesday in a prepared statement.

"Today, the ancestors are happy. The shift to Indigenous Peoples' Day sends a strong message to the descendants of the people who once were sought to be extinguished that there's a renewed appreciation for their resiliency and contribution to our great state," Lente said in the press release.

Indian Affairs Department Secretary Lynn Trujillo called the recognition "an important step to rebuilding state and tribal relations."

For Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer, the mandate is overdue, and they hope the day inspires people to learn about Navajo history.

"The federal government declared Columbus Day as a holiday without input from Native Americans and without knowing the true history of Native Americans. For many years, indigenous people have protested Columbus Day because it celebrates colonialism, oppression and injustice inflicted on indigenous peoples," Nez said.

The Navajo Nation started recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2017 by a proclamation signed by Nez when he was vice president and by former tribal President Russell Begaye.

New Mexico joins Alaska, Minnesota and Vermont in establishing Indigenous Peoples' Day and omitting Columbus Day. Hawaii and South Dakota have initiated alternatives to Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Hawaii enacted Discoverers' Day in recognition of the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands. It is not a state holiday.

South Dakota has a state holiday, Native Americans' Day, in place of Columbus Day.

Lawmakers in Montana and Maine were called to replace Columbus Day this year.

The proposal in Montana was defeated then tabled by a state Senate committee this week, according to the Great Falls Tribune.

The Maine House of Representatives passed a measure for Indigenous Peoples' Day and it has moved to state Senate, according to the Maine Legislature's website.

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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