On Tuesday, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation abolishing Columbus Day as a national holiday. Instead, the state will celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day, which honors the heritage of Native Americans. It is the fifth state to do so, joining Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, and South Dakota.
Although Christopher Columbus is commonly credited with "discovering" America, Icelandic explorer Leif Ericsson landed in the country five centuries prior. Rather than discover, Columbus jumpstarted the permanent European colonization of the Americas; a significant event, but controversy has arisen over its celebration. According to historians, Columbus and his men brutally enslaved Native Americans, subjected them to acts to extreme violence and introduced them to deadly new diseases that wiped out populations.
Democratic representatives Derrick J. Lente and Andrea Romero introduced the bill because they believed it would better reflect the state's culture. "This day is an act of restorative justice for our Indigenous communities, and it is a time to reflect on our understanding of our country’s history, both the good and the bad," Lente told the Navajo-Hopi Observer. "Mexico’s Nations, Tribes, and Pueblos are what truly make us the Land of Enchantment"
After a lengthy, emotional debate, New Mexico's House and Senate voted to approve the bill, the El Paso Times reported. Native American leaders such as Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez praised lawmakers for their support.
"The federal government declared Columbus Day as a holiday without input from Native Americans and without knowing the true history of Native Americans," Nez told the Navajo Post. "For many years, Indigenous people have protested Columbus Day because it celebrates colonialism, oppression, and injustice inflicted on Indigenous peoples ... Observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day allows citizens to recognize our rich heritage and represents a step toward healing and growth."
“Today, the ancestors are happy," Representative Lente told the publication. "The shift to Indigenous Peoples’ Day sends a strong message to the descendants of the people who once were sought to be extinguished that there’s a renewed appreciation for their resiliency and contribution to our great state."
"It is a time to reflect on our understanding of our country’s history, both the good and the bad," Lente added. "New Mexico’s Pueblos, Tribes and Nations are what truly make us the Land of Enchantment. I applaud our Governor for signing this important bill into law so we can properly honor our Indigenous communities.”
In addition to the five aforementioned states, at least 60 cities across the US officially refer to the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples' Day.