After Strange Maneuvers on Floor, Bill To Replace Columbus Day Fails

Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat - Salt Lake City)
Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City)

A bill designed to change the name of Columbus Day died on the Senate floor Tuesday. Just hours before, In a very rare move, the Senate voted to deny a motion to place a bill on the Time Certain Calendar – a move the bill’s sponsor criticized as a “slight” to Utah’s Native American population.

SB 170 – Indigenous Peoples Day, calls for the second Monday of October to be known as Indigenous Peoples Day, as opposed to its current moniker – Columbus Day.

Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City), sponsor of the legislation, made a motion for the bill to be heard on Thursday, March 3rd at 3:00 p.m. His reason? A number of supporters of the bill are traveling from the Four Corners area and other parts of the state. “I’d hate for them to not be here,” Dabakis explained to the body.

The motion clearly failed two voice votes. With division being called, Senator Wayne Harper (Republican – Taylorsville), serving as President pro tempore, asked for at least five Senators to stand to indicate that there is division, a voting method to verify by actual count the results of a voice vote. They did, and Harper then called for another vote. The motion once again failed, with 10 in favor and 14 against.

“It would appear to be somewhat of a slight, given the fact that in the four years I’ve been here I’ve never seen a time certain [motion] defeated before, but I did today,” said Dabakis. “We have a responsibility to all Utah citizens and I hope that we will begin to pass along this message of diversity and, oddly, this message that ‘Yes, you are welcome in our state’ when indeed it is us that they ought to be saying ‘You’re welcome to our land.'”

Senator Todd Weiler (Republican – Woods Cross) pointed out that the Monday before Thanksgiving is celebrated as Indigenous People Day. Dabakis noted that it doesn’t get nearly the same level of attention as Columbus Day.

Senator Allen Christensen (Republican – North Ogden), who was the sole vote against the bill in committee, said that Native Americans should be proud of their heritage. “If they choose to feel oppressed, that’s their right. But another holiday and demeaning someone else is not the way to lift yourself back up again. Columbus is an American hero,” Christensen told the body.

Senator David Hinkins (Republican – Orangeville) noted that the entire month of November is Native American Heritage Month and questioned the need to take over Columbus Day. “I have a lot of Italian-Americans that live down in Carbon County where I’m from and I think it’s a slap in their face to try to take away their day and give it away to someone else,” said Hinkins.

Senator Luz Escamilla (Democrat – Salt Lake City) told lawmakers it is important for the state to “recognize the history of genocide of our Native American brothers and sisters.”

“We need to acknowledge that historical piece. The state may say we’re not ready. It wouldn’t be the first time. We were the last state to change to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I don’t know that we should be proud of that; that’s pretty embarrassing. We tend to have this history of taking twenty years later to do what’s right, and that’s what makes this nation wonderful,” said Escamilla.

“I can’t be held accountable for what people did 300 or 800 years ago, but I know I’m responsible for what I’m doing right now. Recognizing this in order to empower a community that is suffering from a lot of historical disgrace and have not been acknowledged as a community, to me, is the right thing to do. It’s a message bill, and it’s a message to that community that it belongs here and was here long before us or any of our families were here,” Escamilla concluded.

“I’m not going to sit here and listen to history being rewritten. We have a great history in this country, and we can honor Columbus and our indigenous people without disparaging either side,” said Weiler.

Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) brought forth a compromise – change the name to Columbus Day – Indigenous Peoples Day. “I don’t want to ignore Columbus and recognizing him on that day. I don’t want to ignore the fact that I believe that is the proper day to remember the indigenous peoples who were discovered by Columbus. It just makes sense to me that we would find the third solution,” said Stephenson.

Dabakis, who opposed the motion, said that Senator Daniel Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City) approached him with the idea of doing a joint holiday after it became apparent that the current bill probably wasn’t going to pass, but a number of Native American leaders were “greatly offended” by the proposal.

The motion to amend the bill failed. SB 170 was subsequently defeated on a 10-15 vote.

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