The Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day as an official Los Angeles holiday, with supporters of the plan arguing that the explorer’s connection to brutality and slavery makes him no longer worthy of celebration.
The proposal has already been approved by a council committee, although a second proposal expected to be introduced by Councilman Joe Buscaino through an amending motion will call for Indigenous People’s Day to take place on Aug. 9 and a second new holiday called Embrace L.A. Day to replace Columbus Day in October.
Getting rid of Columbus Day has drawn opposition from many Italian- Americans who view it as a celebration of their national heritage because of Columbus’ Italian lineage.
Buscaino, who is an Italian-American, last year called the proposal to replace Columbus Day “troubling” and divisive but is now expected to propose Embrace L.A. Day as a way for the city to celebrate its diversity though recognizing its immigrants and other communities.
“He doesn’t want to exclude anybody. He wants to celebrate the Los Angeles experience, which is immigrants and indigenous people and different cultures,” Branimir Kvartuc, a spokesman for Buscaino, told City News Service.
Kvartuc said the proposal would include that Embrace L.A. Day be a paid city holiday and that Aug. 9 be Indigenous People’s Day — also as a paid holiday — because that is the day the United Nations recognizes.
In June, the Elections, Intergovernmental Relations and Neighborhoods Committee voted 3-0 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. It also recommended that Oct. 12 be recognized as Italian American Heritage Day in the city, although it would not be a paid official holiday for city employees.
In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the Columbus Day state holiday as part of a budget-cutting measure, but Los Angeles continues to observe the holiday as one of 12 where city workers get a paid day off.
Observing a holiday like Columbus Day costs the city about $2 million in overtime and more than $9 million in “soft” costs from reduced productivity, according to a Human Relations Commission report, so creating a 13th holiday would affect the city’s budget.
“Instituting an additional paid holiday would be a fiscal challenge, given all other budget priorities facing the city,” the report said.
Kvartuc noted that the city did not have a paid holiday in August.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell introduced a motion in November 2015 instructing the Human Relations Commission, with the assistance of the Los Angeles City and County Native American Commission, to report back on the historical importance and cultural impact of establishing Indigenous Peoples Day.
The councilman said he introduced the resolution because of what he called “Columbus’ legacy of extreme violence, enslavement and brutality” and “the suffering, destruction of cultures, and subjugation of Los Angeles’ original indigenous people, who were here thousands of years before anyone else.”
Columbus Day has long been a divisive holiday due to some historians’ conclusion that he committed acts of brutality on the native people he encountered and was involved in slave trading.
The National Christopher Columbus Association, which is calling for the city to keep Columbus Day, insists he was not responsible for the genocide committed by the Europeans who followed him.
“It is a huge error to blame Christopher Columbus the man for (genocide) at all,” Patrick Korten, a board member of the National Christopher Columbus Association, to City News Service. “He bore no responsibility for it and as a matter of fact, if you do the slightest little bit of history on the man and read his diaries, and what was said about him following the years of the discovery, it is clear that Columbus personally had great affection for the indigenous people he encountered and went out of his way to order his men not to abuse them in any fashion.”
O’Farrell’s original motion called for creating Indigenous People’s Day but did not specifically direct it to replace Columbus Day. A subsequent report from the Human Relations Commission made the recommendation to replace Columbus Day.
If approved by the full council, Los Angeles would join such cities as Seattle, Minneapolis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, along with five states, in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Columbus Day still is a federal holiday.
—City News Service