Washington, D.C. city council members rushed to approve legislation renaming Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” this week before its Oct. 14 commemoration, citing similar moves by several states and a slew of cities in recent years.
The D.C. Council invoked a special provision for emergency legislation Tuesday that allowed the bill’s sponsors to force a vote without the standard process involving committees, multiple votes and congressional approval. Another bill in the works would make the change permanent — the emergency bill will be in effect for “no longer than 90 days” after Mayor Muriel Bowser signs it.
“Columbus Day was officially designated as a federal holiday in 1937 despite the fact that Columbus did not discover North America, despite the fact that millions of people were already living in North America upon his arrival in the Americas, and despite the fact that Columbus never set foot on the shores of the current United States,” at-large Councilmember David Grosso said in a statement Monday. “Columbus enslaved, colonized, mutilated, and massacred thousands of Indigenous People in the Americas.”
The temporary provision passed easily with 12 of 13 members voting for it and just one member, Jack Evans, voting present.
Grosso’s Monday statement blamed Council Chairman Phil Mendelson for stalling the legislation for at least five years, “without any public input or hearing,” though Mendelson voted for the emergency bill Tuesday. Curbed D.C. reported that Evans voted present because his Italian American constituents reached out to oppose the move.
Also on Tuesday the body approved a similar “temporary” bill that would last for just over seven months if signed, and passed a resolution declaring the need for the council to rename Columbus Day before Oct. 14 “an emergency.”
“Columbus Day is in reverence to a divisive figure whose actions against Indigenous People run counter to the values of equality, diversity, and inclusion — values that the District of Columbia has long embodied — and serves only to perpetuate hate and oppression, in contrast to the values the District espouses on a daily basis,” the resolution reads. “The Council acknowledges the negative historic and continuing impacts of European colonization on the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and reaffirms the District’s commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion for all.”