STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
More than 100 cities, towns and counties commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day today. The federal holiday, of course, is Columbus Day, but advocates are trying to change that one place at a time. NPR's Leila Fadel reports it is slowly shifting.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Today in the nation's capital, Columbus Day is out. The D.C. Council voted to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Other places did the same this year - from Princeton, N.J., to Hays County, Texas. And a few states adopted it, too, including Louisiana.
BALEY CHAMPAGNE: Let me go get it first. (Laughter) I don't have it with me.
FADEL: Baley Champagne grabs the proclamation. She's a tribal citizen of the United Holman Nation and petitioned Louisiana's governor for the change.
CHAMPAGNE: (Reading) And whereas we recognized that it was founded and built upon lands first inhabited by Indigenous people of this region and acknowledge and honor these members of the community, now, therefore, I, John Bel Edwards...
FADEL: Today, people are traveling from across the state to join the festivities in Houma, La. Champagne says it's long overdue.
CHAMPAGNE: It's about celebrating people instead of thinking about somebody who actually caused genocide on a population. By bringing Indigenous Peoples Day, we're bringing awareness that we're not going to allow someone like that to be glorified into a hero.
FADEL: Native peoples first proposed the day during a 1977 U.N. conference. But it wasn't until 1989 that South Dakota replaced Columbus Day with Native American Day. And then in 1992, Berkeley became the first U.S. city to ditch Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day. Loni Hancock was the mayor at the time. When it was proposed, she says, it was the first time she thought about what it meant to say Christopher Columbus discovered America.
LONI HANCOCK: And how really profoundly disrespectful it was to say that a European explorer who never actually set foot on the continent did that, discounting the Indigenous people who had lived here for centuries.
FADEL: It was controversial, she says, and remains controversial among some Italian Americans. Columbus was an Italian explorer. And his day was first adopted as a way to really humanize and celebrate Italians who were vilified and discriminated against at the time. Hancock says there should be other ways to honor Italian Americans and their struggles. But it's important to get this day right.
HANCOCK: To fully understand and take responsibility for who we are as a people in this land. Maybe it's very important to be clearer about who was here first and reflect on what happened in our history after that.
FADEL: The shift away from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day is significant not just for Indigenous people but for everyone, says Shannon Speed, because she says Columbus committed what today would be crimes.
SHANNON SPEED: You know, pillaging, raping and generally setting in motion a genocide of the peoples who were already here.
FADEL: Speed is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center. And she says those actions are not something anyone wants to celebrate. She also points out that it causes further trauma.
SPEED: So Indigenous children are going to school and being forced to hear about and celebrate the person who set in motion the genocide of their people. That's incredibly painful. I mean, it creates an ongoing harm.
FADEL: At least 10 states have replaced Columbus Day. Speed says she thinks it's only a matter of time before the federal government does the same. Leila Fadel, NPR News.
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