Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Monday that the state would honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day, celebrating Native Americans on a holiday usually associated with Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.
Newsom’s proclamation applies only to Oct. 14, 2019, but it follows a trend in which states from Maine to South Dakota have replaced Columbus Day with another holiday honoring Native Americans.
“Instead of commemorating conquest today, we recognize resilience,” Newsom’s proclamation reads. “Home to one of the largest and most diverse populations of indigenous peoples anywhere in the United States, California is a better, stronger and more vibrant place because of them.”
Columbus Day is a federal holiday that occurs on the second Monday of October. It recognizes Columbus, who brought Europeans to the Americas in the 15th Century.
South Dakota in 1990 became the first state to honor Native Americans in place of Columbus on the holiday. Other cities and states have followed, drawing attention to the native people who persevered after Columbus landed in the Caribbean.
Columbus conscripted native people into forced labor, and brought diseases that killed thousands.
Raymond C Hitchcock, chairman of the Wilton Rancheria Tribe in Elk Grove, called Newsom’s announcement an “unprecedented proclamation.”
“In making this unprecedented proclamation, he is recognizing the original Americans and celebrating our contributions, while raising awareness of the suffering and hardships that native peoples have endured,” Hitchcock said.
Italian-American communities across the country have long heralded the explorer as a leader into the New World and the holiday as an opportunity to celebrate their culture and contributions to America.
“Italians have been instrumental in the creation of California’s wine, fishing, mining, agricultural and food processing industries and the establishment of the first Branch Banking system in the nation in the Italian neighborhoods of California which spread across the country,” said Bill Cerruti, chair of the California Italian American Task Force. “Attempts to take away the Columbus Day holiday and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day would be an injustice to Italian Americans and would be form of discrimination against Italian Americans and other Americans.”
Newsom has taken several steps this year to remedy California’s role in the oppression of Native Americans.
In June, he issued a formal apology on behalf of the state for the slaughter of indigenous peoples during the 19th century. Last month he also indicated that he’d like to see a greater educational emphasis and “truth telling” of native peoples.
“I will never forget going on the tours of all the Spanish missions and building the actual forts,” Newsom said during a Capitol event to honor Native American Day. “I remember the cowboys and Indians. Nobody taught me empathy, sensitivity or understanding as it relates to what really happened. This was the original genocide. It was about white supremacy.”