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Indigenous Peoples Day replaces Columbus Day in San Luis Obispo

Mayor Heidi Harmon hugs Mona Olivas Tucker, chair of the Northern Chumash Tribe, as Clairibel Terril and Wendy Lucas applaud on Tuesday as the City Council proclaimed San Luis Obispo would celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day.
Mayor Heidi Harmon hugs Mona Olivas Tucker, chair of the Northern Chumash Tribe, as Clairibel Terril and Wendy Lucas applaud on Tuesday as the City Council proclaimed San Luis Obispo would celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo will now celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, the City Council declared Tuesday, honoring the native tribes who populated America over the Italian explorer who “discovered” it.

Flanked by members of the Northern Chumash Tribe, Mayor Heidi Harmon read a proclamation at Tuesday’s council meeting on members’ unanimous support of the holiday recognizing the history, culture, and value indigenous people add to the community.

“We acknowledge the indigenous roots we have in San Luis Obispo and in California and the cultural and familial ties that connect us,” Harmon said, reading from the proclamation. “Indigenous Peoples Day shall reflect the ongoing struggles of indigenous people of this land and celebrate the thriving culture and value that indigenous people add to our city.”

In response, tribal members thanked the council for its support and led prayers in their native tongue.

“It’s not that long ago that things changed for our ancestors,” said Mona Tucker, the tribe’s chair. “We our proud of our culture, and that we live in this region. We look forward to our future. We appreciate your support.”

In a statement issued issued earlier, the tribe said the movement replaces “the honoring of an explorer who helped initiate the decimation of native tribes across the country” and called it a “tremendous step toward educating, in being inclusive of all the history of this area. It is about truth-telling.”

Though Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937 and is celebrated by federal and most state government offices, the city of San Luis Obispo doesn’t recognize Columbus Day as an official city holiday, meaning city offices are open.

Harmon said the proclamation is a kind of symbolic gesture by the city because it won’t represent a day off for workers. She expressed a desire to work with local schools to include education about Indigenous Peoples Day.

The council joined more than 30 cities nationwide — including Los Angeles, Seattle and Albuquerque — in recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, which was proposed in 1977 and first adopted by the city of Berkeley in 1992. The states of Minnesota and Vermont began observing the holiday in 2016.

Columbus represents the kind of heroic courage and religious faith that inspired the establishment of the United States. Although he surely holds special meaning for Catholics and for Italian Americans, Columbus is a figure all citizens of the New World can celebrate.

Gerald Korson, Knights of Columbus

In response to Indigenous Peoples Day, the local Knights of Columbus group, a Catholic fraternal service organization named in honor of Christopher Columbus, had no comment other than to refer The Tribune to an article on its national organization’s website, defending Columbus’ legacy.

“Columbus represents the kind of heroic courage and religious faith that inspired the establishment of the United States,” author Gerald Korson wrote. “Although he surely holds special meaning for Catholics and for Italian Americans, Columbus is a figure all citizens of the New World can celebrate.”

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