DC Council votes to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day — for now

D.C. Councilmember David Grosso
D.C. Councilmember David Grosso speaks during the D.C. Council hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. (Courtesy D.C. Council)

The D.C. Council has voted to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day — at least for this year.

Championed for the past five years by Councilmember David Grosso, the Council voted to support the “Indigenous Peoples’ Day Emergency Declaration Act of 2019.”

“Columbus Day was officially designated as a federal holiday in 1937, despite the fact Columbus did not discover North America, despite the fact millions of people were already living in North America upon his arrival to the Americas, and despite the fact Columbus never set foot on the shores of the current United States,” Grosso said before the council’s vote Tuesday.

Grosso said Columbus “enslaved, colonized, mutilated and massacred thousands of indigenous peoples,” but chided the D.C. Council for failing to take prior actions to shift the focus from the Italian explorer to the people who were affected by his arrival.

“This action is long overdue. And, frankly, it’s about respecting those individuals that came before us, something we as a city have had a hard time with, giving the pervasiveness of the name of our local football team,” said Grosso, referring to the Washington Redskins.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans abstained from the vote.

“I’ve gotten a number of emails and calls from constituents in my ward, largely of Italian descent, who feel taking this action is not fair,” he said.

Evans said would fully support an Indigenous Peoples’ Day, “but not replacing Columbus Day.”

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh supported the emergency measure.

“We have precious few opportunities to recognize Native Americans, who suffered so horrifically in this country, and I would like to take this day, and have this day converted to recognition of them,” she said.

Grosso said, as an Italian-American, whose “father is 100% Italian,” the change is morally required.

“I’ve gotten the emails from my fellow paisanos, and I respect their opinion, but respectfully hope my colleagues will join me in doing what we should do here, which is honor the people who were here first,” Grosso said, before the emergency legislation passed.

However, the change may only be temporary.

Once signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, the emergency legislation would be put into effect immediately.

The Council also passed a temporary version of the bill, which would require congressional approval before becoming permanent. If no permanent legislation is passed in the next year, the name of the Oct. 14 holiday would revert to Columbus Day in 2020.

Grosso said “seven other states and over 70 cities have gone through the legislative process and determined to no longer observe a holiday dedicated to a divisive figure in our world history.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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