Sens. Heinrich, Luján sponsor bill that calls for Indigenous Peoples' Day

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Three Democratic members of Congress are calling for changing the national holiday of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1937 and commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492.

While the holiday is observed on the second Monday in October, momentum for modifying the day has increased in recent years with several states and cities opting to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day.

New Mexico's U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján are sponsoring the bill to have Indigenous Peoples' Day take the place of Columbus Day as well as replacing any mention of Columbus Day in all federal laws or regulations with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

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Members of Ehecatl Aztec Dancers, from left, Rita Xiukwetzpallin, Crystal Zamora and Luna Zamora perform on Oct. 8, 2018 during Indigenous Peoples Day at San Juan College in Farmington.

U.S. Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

"By celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day, we lift up the strength and resilience of America's tribal nations. I'm proud to stand with New Mexico's tribes and pueblos who have led the way to re-frame this national holiday to honor all of the significant contributions and diverse cultures of our native communities," Heinrich said in the joint news release.

Video:San Juan College hosts third annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration

James Soos sings a traditional song at San Juan College's Indigenous Peoples Day celebration on Oct. 14 2019.

Luján said he is proud of the effort and "hopeful" that Congress can make it reality.

"Let this day serve as a celebration of our country's tribal nations and Native communities, and a reminder of the work ahead, to continue to strengthen and improve the federal government's relationship with tribal governments and Indigenous peoples," he said.

New Mexico is among 14 states that celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. The state is home to 23 pueblos and tribes.

Among tribal leaders backing the proposal are Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer.

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Both leaders submitted letters of support to members of Congress last week, according to their office.

"The Navajo Nation has long been opposed to celebrating Columbus Day. He is credited by many with 'discovering' the Americas, but this characterization ignores the fact that the land was already inhabited by numerous peoples with advanced cultures, technologies and systems of government that rivaled the Europeans at the time," Nez 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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