A city councilman called Friday for the creation of an Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles, but stopped short of saying he wants the holiday to replace Columbus Day.

Photo by John Schreiber.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who is part Native American, introduced a motion Friday to look into setting aside a day each year to recognize the history, culture and achievements of indigenous peoples.

The holiday is part of a wider movement around the country to replace Columbus Day, which falls on the second Monday of October, with a day focused on Native Americans instead.

Columbus Day is a federal holiday observed in honor of Christopher Columbus, popularly credited with discovering the Americas. Critics of the holiday have pointed out that millions of people were already living on the American continents when he landed, and that his arrival eventually led to many of those people being enslaved or their populations thinned.

Berkeley, Denver, Seattle, Anchorage, Portland and Albuquerque have already stopped observing Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day, according to a release from O’Farrell’s office.

But O’Farrell told City News Service that while he has made it “pretty clear I’m not a fan of Columbus Day,” he is “open to all options” for the timing of Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles.

Speaking at a City Hall luncheon event celebrating Native American Heritage Month earlier Friday, O’Farrell called the observance of Columbus Day a “travesty,” while Native Americans have historically been “devalued.”

O’Farrell, whose father is Irish American and his mother a member of the Wyandotte Nation tribe, said he grew up hearing teachers describing Columbus as a “great man.” But over the years, it has become “less acceptable to really even mention his name in a positive light,” he said.

The reasons for wanting to establish Indigenous People’s Day “is based on the folly of celebrating a man who brought nothing but catastrophe for native peoples when he first arrived in the new world,” O’Farrell told City News Service.

While O’Farrell was strongly critical of Columbus Day, he would not say if he supports abolishing it in Los Angeles.

His motion only calls for the City Administrative Officer to report back on creating the holiday, and asks the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission to report on the “historical importance and cultural impact” of establishing a “legal city holiday” recognizing indigenous peoples, and does not suggest the annual observance day.

The idea of abolishing Columbus Day faces some resistance from O’Farrell’s colleagues. Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is Italian American, released a statement saying that for families like his, “who immigrated to the United States, Columbus Day celebrates a commitment to cross an ocean and a border and start a new life in the new world.”

O’Farrell told City News Service that he is aware that some Italian Americans may have attachments to the holiday, but there are other better ways to celebrate Italian culture, arts, food and contributions.

“There is a complete disconnect and separation from any of that to Christopher Columbus,” he said.

For some Native Americans who attended the City Hall heritage month event, the holiday would bring more attention to a population that is often ignored, while Navajo tribe member Glenn Talley noted that a day like an Indigenous Peoples Day would “straighten out some of the issues of the past.”

— City News Service

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