The Austin City Council voted Thursday to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday that honors Native Americans, and no longer recognize Columbus Day.
Austin follows such U.S. cities as Berkeley, Seattle, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and most recently, Los Angeles, in replacing the traditional holiday to instead declare that the second Tuesday of October honor America’s indigenous people.
Councilmembers approved a resolution that sought “to create a path of healing and reconciliation” noting that October 12, 1492, marked the “beginning of the colonization of indigenous people that forever changed their identity, cultures, and achievements.”
The resolution proclaims that the City of Austin has a responsibility to “oppose the systematic racism” directed at indigenous people in the United States” and promote “closing of the equity gap” through policies and practices that “reflect the experiences” of indigenous peoples, ensuring access and opportunity, plus “honor our nation’s indigenous roots, history, and contributions.”
It states: “…honoring the role of Columbus as a historical figure promotes values of intolerance and violence that are still common in today’s world and are opposed to the values of the citizens of Austin.”
The resolution also “strongly” encourages Austin public schools to include teaching the history of Native Americans, and recommends that city businesses, organizations, and public institutions recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.
During council discussion, Councilwoman Ora Houston pointed out the resolution was silent on whether or not “to get rid of” Columbus Day or “have the ability to celebrate both.” She noted her intent was to be “inclusive.” She said: “There is only one human race but there are many parts of it.”
Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair told her peers she heard from Italian-Americans and the Knights of Columbus, an Italian-American fraternal service organization, in her district who thought the resolution’s wording was “disrespectful to their heritage.” Troxclair wanted to give the city council the opportunity to be “inclusive” and proposed an amendment to celebrate both Columbus and indigenous people on the same day. The motion failed, garnering support only from Councilwoman Alison Alter.
“We have a saying that Columbus didn’t discover America, he was lost and you can’t discover something when you’re lost,” said Councilman Sabino “Pio” Renteria.
Councilman Gregorio “Greg” Casar proposed an amendment stating the city would only celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day and not Columbus Day. It was approved.
The city sought counsel from public commenter Tane Ward, Ph.D., an Austin indigenous rights activist, community organizer, and co-founder of Equilibrio Norte, a Texas-based grassroots organization dedicated to seeking societal “equilibrium” through “decolonial” politics.
“There are many ways to celebrate history and we don’t feel that celebrating Columbus is an accurate way,” said Tane, who specializes in “building decolonial politics that serve to challenge the destructive exploitation of traditional communities, and create alternative frameworks for resistance in urban and elite spaces,” according to his online biography.
Councilmembers voted 9-1-1, with Troxclair voting against and Alter abstaining. The resolution was sponsored by council members Houston, Renteria, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, and Mayor Steven Adler.
Interim City Manager Elaine Hart reminded council members that Columbus Day remains a federal holiday and the City of Austin cannot erase it but she stated that city calendars will no longer refer to the holiday as a day named for Christopher Columbus.
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