City Council renames Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day

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City Council member Ora Houston, left, and Equilibrio Norte representative Tane Ward, right, hug after the council’s decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in Austin on Thursday morning. Houston sponsored the bill to end the celebration of Columbus Day.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Columbus Day, coming up this Monday, was officially replaced by Indigenous People’s Day in Austin following a City Council vote Thursday morning.

Following a push from Equilibrio Norte, an Indigenous Peoples’ advocacy group, a resolution replacing Columbus Day was approved by the Council, with one no-vote and one council member abstaining.

“Texas — and central Texas specifically — is the oldest continually inhabited site in all of the Americas,” Equilibrio Norte representative Tane Ward said. “This is actually a very important place for native peoples … We’re asking for indigenous people to be honored, and the only name we’re erasing here is Columbus, someone who is actively known to have committed genocide in the Caribbean.”

The resolution was sponsored by council member Ora Houston, District 1, to promote inclusivity and end the celebration of Columbus Day, which Houston said serves as a symbol of intolerance and violence.

“There is only human race, but there are many parts of that human race,” Houston said. “The indigenous people who have lived on this land before any of us got here … are just asking for (the) opportunity to have the recognition and the acknowledgment that they too were the original conservancies of our land.”

Columbus Day remains a federally recognized holiday. The resolution cited a growing number of cities around the country that recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day, such as Berkeley, California.

“We have a saying that Columbus didn’t discover America,” council member Sabino Renteria, District 3, said. “He was lost, and you can’t discover something when you’re lost.”

In the first draft, the resolution did not mention whether Indigenous Peoples’ Day would replace Columbus Day. During Thursday’s meeting however, council member Greg Casar, District 4, proposed and succeeded in passing an amendment to clarify the replacement of Indigenous Peoples’ Day for Columbus Day.

Following Casar’s amendment, council member Ellen Troxclair, District 8, declared opposition to the resolution and voted against it. In a Facebook post online, Troxclair said the resolution has zero “tangible impact.”

“It’s important to recognize the good and bad parts of our history, and there was a lot of pain and suffering that indigenous people went through,” Troxclair said during the meeting. “(But), there’s nothing we can do to change the fact that the federal government is going to recognize Columbus Day.”

Luis Carcamo-Huechante, director of the Program in Native American and Indigenous Studies at UT, said he sees this change as an important step toward preserving indigenous culture by reengaging with their communities.

“It’s a recognition for the indigenous communities in Texas, but it’s also a result of indigenous organizations across the years to dismantle the legacies of colonialism on these lands,” said Carcamo-Huechante, who is also a descendant of an indigenous tribe in Chile, Mapuche. “My hope is that this trend has an impact also at the federal level at some point.”

Angela Vela, Mexican-American studies senior and director of Native American and Indigenous Collective, said the resolution represented more than just the renaming of a holiday. As a person of indigenous descent, Vela said the change represents a step in the right direction toward fixing issues such as indigenous sovereignty and protections.

“Columbus Day should never have been a holiday or a celebration, and now I’m excited that people are recognizing that we should be celebrating indigenous and Native American (survival), resilience and existence,” Vela said.