Columbus may share day with indigenous people under Sacramento City Council proposal

Christopher Columbus may have to share his October holiday with indigenous people if a resolution before City Council is passed next week.

The council will consider a plan to proclaim the second Monday in October – recognized nationally as Columbus Day – as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Sacramento. The 15th-century Italian explorer would not be booted entirely, but would share billing with Native Americans.

The push to honor Native Americans on a holiday traditionally reserved for Columbus is part of a broader resolution to show support for the Standing Rock Sioux’s ongoing protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The proposed council resolution, backed by Councilman Eric Guerra, includes formal opposition to the project and support of the protesters.

“There is an unfortunate history where we have overlooked the rights of indigenous people in our country and throughout the Americas,” said Guerra. “It’s something that I think we always say, ‘Oh, that was in the past.’ But it is happening again today and I think it’s important that when we see that religious rights or civil rights are being violated, we as a city should take a vocal position on it.”

The Standing Rock controversy has drawn national attention as protesters near tribal land in North Dakota face off against police in an attempt to change the route of the $3.8 billion pipeline. As proposed, it would pass underneath a lake near the Sioux reservation, as well as 209 rivers, creeks and other bodies of water along its 1,170 mile route, according to the resolution.

Protesters say it poses a risk to water resources and disturbs sacred Native American grounds.

Thousands of protesters camping at the site have been ordered by authorities to evacuate. This week, a group of 2,000 veterans – including some from Sacramento – said they would travel to the camp to provide a “human shield” between protesters and police.

The City Council resolution was authored by a group of local Latino and Native American activists, who presented the idea during last Tuesday’s meeting.

“I felt like being in Sacramento, we are in the middle of two rivers. We could be next,” said Ruth Ibarra, one of the authors. Ibarra left this week to join protesters at Standing Rock.

“Hopefully by standing in solidarity with them, we are sending the message that our water is sacred,” she said.

But not all Sacramentans support the resolution.

Bill Cerruti, executive director of the Sacramento Italian Cultural Society, said his group is against it and that nationally many Italian Americans are part of a “Save Columbus Day” campaign.

“It’s part of our heritage and very important to our identity,” Cerruti said. “Historically it’s been a day of national unity.”

Cerruti said he does not oppose the idea of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but would like to see it land someplace on the calendar other than Columbus Day.

“You’re talking about two different groups of people who celebrate their heritage differently,” he said. “There’s no reason to put them on the same day.”

The state of California officially observes Native American Day, which does not fall on Columbus Day. Ronald Reagan created the event with a 1968 resolution when he was governor, putting it on the fourth Friday in September. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2014 making Native American Day an official state holiday.

Nationally, there has been momentum this year for municipalities to adopt an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day. Supporters say Columbus harmed Indians, and shouldn’t be celebrated.

“I feel that Columbus declared war with his acts of genocide,” said Steven Payan, another author of the resolution who has also been to Standing Rock.

Phoenix, Ariz.; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Eugene, Ore., are among about a dozen places that have declared the new day. Berkeley was the first city to sweep the Italian explorer aside when it replaced Columbus Day with one for Native Americans in 1992.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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