Starting no later than 2019, the second Monday in October will be observed as Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day in Los Angeles County, according to a motion passed by the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The motion, which makes Indigenous Peoples Day an official county holiday, also designates Oct. 12 as Italian American Heritage Day.
“The motion, let me be clear, is not about erasing history,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who introduced it with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “This is about understanding that for centuries, America’s ancestors oppressed certain groups of people. And while we can’t change the past, we can acknowledge and make that history right today.”
The county joins several cities across the U.S., including Seattle, Albuquerque and Denver, which have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Its motion also resembles one passed by the Los Angeles City Council in August. That proposal, which was approved 14-1, pitted Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Nation, against Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is publicly passionate about his Italian heritage.
There was no such stark personal divide among the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, although Kathryn Barger of District 5 voted against the proposal.
Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes San Pedro, where many Italian Americans live, voted in favor but emphasized that the motion also celebrates Italian Americans. “We know that the Italian American community has felt a little hurt about this as well,” she said.
Supporters of Columbus Day, established as a national holiday in 1937, say the Italian explorer should not be held responsible for the smallpox epidemic and the decimation of the indigenous population.
But indigenous activists say the change is long overdue and provides at least a symbolic correction to the historical narrative.
“Native Americans are descendants of the aboriginal, indigenous, native people who were the original inhabitants of this continent,” Solis and Kuehl wrote in the motion, calling it “fitting” that the county honor their historic contributions through an official holiday.