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New Mexico lawmakers seek to rename Columbus Day

December 4, 2018
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FILE--In this Sept. 7, 2018, file photo, Dezmund Marcus, front left, of Ohkay Owingeh, N.M., performs the Butterfly Dance at the outset of an annual autumn festival in front of a crowd, including Roman Catholic Archbishop John Wester, right, in Santa Fe, N.M. Tributes to European conquerors are fading or being rewritten in many New Mexico communities out of consideration for Native Americans. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico would trade in its Columbus Day holiday for a tribute to Native Americans instead under a bill being drafted in anticipation of next year’s legislative session.

The proposed legislation to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day from Democratic state Rep. Derrick Lente, a tribal member of Sandia Pueblo, has cleared its first hurdle with an unopposed committee endorsement. The bill can’t be introduced until Dec. 15, and it was unclear Monday whether Democratic Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the proposal to rename the state holiday on the second Monday in October.

At least five states — from Hawaii to Vermont — have done away with Columbus Day celebration in deference to Native Americans, though the federal Columbus holiday remains in place.

“I think that this state in particular owes it to the Native people,” said Lente, referring to 23 recognized Native American communities in New Mexico. He highlighted “the persecutions, the enslavement, the killings” of indigenous people that ensued with Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Caribbean.

Tributes to European conquerors in many New Mexico communities are being rewritten out of consideration for Native Americans, even amid enduring expressions of pride in the state’s Spanish colonial history that dates back to the late 16th century.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day already is celebrated by Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, and the state capital of Santa Fe, which this year discontinued a costumed pageant marking the return of Spanish colonists and conqueror Don Diego de Vargas a dozen years after a 1680 Indian revolt. The pageant drew vehement protests.

Conchita Lucero, former president of the New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Preservation League, bristled at the idea of renaming Columbus Day.

“I really think that we need to focus on some of the good things that he did too,” she said of Columbus.

Javier Sanchez, the Republican mayor of Espanola, said the state remains strongly attached to its colonial history — but less so to Columbus.

“He’s an Italian guy that fewer people have a connection with here,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez recently helped repeal Espanola’s involvement an annual tribute to Spanish conquistador Juan de Onate, who is revered as a Hispanic founding father and reviled for brutality against Native Americans. Sanchez is helping the town develop new cultural celebrations.

“It’s more important to celebrate who we are now, without either glorifying or vilifying what has happened in the past,” Sanchez said.

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