AP NEWS

New Mexico Legislature approves Indigenous People’s Day bill

March 16, 2019
New Mexico Democratic Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, standing, talks to Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, while Sen. John Pinto, D-Gallup, listens to debate on the Senate floor on Friday, March 15, 2019 in Santa Fe, N.M. The Democratic-controlled New Mexico Legislature is racing to pass a number of measures around taxes and minimum wage before the current session ends on Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposal to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day won final approval Friday in the state Legislature following a lengthy and sometimes emotional debate.

The Senate voted 22-15 to approve the bill pushed by Native American activists.

Numerous cities nationwide, including Albuquerque, have moved to shift the October holiday’s focus from honoring Christopher Columbus by passing resolutions and measures that instead called for celebrating indigenous cultures.

Sen. Benny Shendo, Jr., a Democrat from Pueblo, said the day was needed to counter lessons taught in schools that claim Columbus “discovered” the Americas despite indigenous people already living there for centuries.

But changing the name of the day, Shendo said the focus would be put back on indigenous people and away from those who he says were a source of violence.

Some senators, including some Hispanic lawmakers, opposed the proposed change. They said it was part of a national movement that ignored the contributions of Spanish explorers who helped shaped the culture of the present American Southwest.

Sen. Craig Brandt, a Republican from Rio Rancho, went a step further to say the change disrespected Italian Americans who historically use the day to observe the discrimination they faced in the United States. He said his grandson was part Italian American.

“You are saying he doesn’t matter,” Brandt said.

Sen. Mark Moores, a Republican from Albuquerque, tried to ease tensions by proposing New Mexico Day to celebrate all of the state’s unique cultures, but it failed to garner enough support. ”’This is just divisive,” he said.

Sponsors of the bill include Rep. Derrick Lente, a Democrat from Sandia Pueblo, who said during this year’s legislative session that Columbus’ expeditions of the Americas five centuries ago had resulted in a violent legacy.

His remarks came after activists in Santa Fe lobbied the city and organizers of an annual fiesta to discontinue the re-enactment of a 17th-century Spanish conquistador reclaiming the city.

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.

New Mexico is home to 23 tribes.

The bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her possible signature.