Move over, Columbus Day? L.A. committee takes step toward Indigenous Peoples Day

Every year Columbus Day ignites the same debate, with questions over whether the Italian explorer should be viewed as a hero. But at least locally the conversation could soon shift after a Los Angeles City Council Committee took a step toward establishing Indigenous Peoples Day. 

The Arts, Parks and River Committee unanimously voted Monday to approve a motion introduced by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell in November. The motion asks the city administrative officer to report back on how it would establish Indigenous Peoples Day as a legal holiday in the city.

It also requests the city's Human Relations Commission and Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission to report on the historical importance and cultural impact of creating such a holiday. 

"In approaching this topic … I asked myself, if not me who? And if not now, when," said O'Farrell, chair of the committee and a member of the Wyandotte Native American tribe. "I know in my heart of hearts now is the time to have a conversation about the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles."

During public comment, people offered support for the establishment of the holiday, while some argued against the removal of Columbus Day. O'Farrell at one point clarified that the motion does not call for the elimination of Columbus Day.  

The Human Relations Commission report will consider whether there should be a name change for the holiday and will look at how other cities handle it, said Patricia Villaseñor, executive director of the Human Relations Commission.  

"I think that's the question for the report to look at those different avenues," Villaseñor said. "It's not a complete thing yet."

The motion was approved and the report was requested back in 60 days. If the idea is approved it could possibly replace Columbus Day and L.A. could join cities such as Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Seattle and Minneapolis. 

Some speakers offered support for establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day, but asked that it fall on a separate day and that it not replace Columbus Day.

"Columbus himself represents the voyage of discovery, which is what our community of America is based on," said Ann Potenza, a representative of the Federated Italo-Americans umbrella organization. "Columbus Day is for the immigrants and to celebrate what was brought here and the Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples should have a day, because they are the ones who started here." 

A majority of speakers voiced their support for the establishment of the holiday during the meeting. 

"This is so critical to the future of our people and we want to make sure that we're able to celebrate the survival, the beauty, the resilience of our peoples and what we contribute to this city every day," said Chrissie Castro, vice chairperson of the L.A. City/County Native American Indian Commission.

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