Legislation that aims to recognize the contributions of Utah’s Native American community passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 3-1 vote Wednesday.
SB 170 – Indigenous Peoples Day, sponsored by Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), provides that the second Monday of October is called Indigenous Peoples Day, as opposed to it current moniker – Columbus Day.
“We believe that the Indigenous Peoples Day would shift the focus to people that are actually here in the State of Utah and have been here for thousands of years. There are 50,000 individuals that are indigenous to the population all across our state, from eight different tribes. This would celebrate this incredible culture that we have living with us,” said Dabakis. “This is about dignity. This is about representation that perhaps we have been lacking in our state.”
Orville Cayaditto, president of the Inter-Tribal Student Association at the University of Utah, said that changing the holiday’s name will educate the public about Native American history and contribute to an ongoing dialogue about the struggles they face in the present day.
“As a state that celebrates history, we do not recognize who was here first. The celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day allows us to begin to resolve the misunderstandings and painful history that has faced indigenous peoples and address the ongoing marginalization, discrimination, and poverty our community has faced at this day. It is time to recognize these tribes and their humanity,” Cayaditto told the committee.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said Christopher Columbus is a hero to many. “I think we have a right to feel that way about Christopher Columbus.”
16-year-old Christian Horlacker, a homeschool student, testified that Christopher Columbus was not a “murderous pirate” and is a hero for helping bring Christianity and freedom to this continent. “I pledge allegiance to this country and this country has pledged allegiance to God. That is why Christopher Columbus is so important to our rich heritage.”
Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – North Ogden) said he doesn’t consider himself to be a prejudiced person and told Utah’s Native Americans that they should be proud of their heritage. “I also feel that the way to lift yourselves up is not by tearing someone else down. And for that reason, I’m going to oppose this bill.”
Senator Luz Escamilla (Democrat – Salt Lake City) urged the committee to support SB 170 as a way to show appreciation to a community that has endured much hardship. “Part of making sure we can heal communities and heal relationships is by acknowledging that history and changing that name is part of that acknowledgment,” said Escamilla.
If approved by the full Legislature, Utah would join a growing number of cities and states that have chosen to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.