A Los Angeles City Council committee continued to explore a controversial proposal to replace Columbus Day with what would be called Indigenous Peoples Day.
A rare council evening event on Wednesday, June 14, was a continuation of the Elections, Intergovernmental Relations and Neighborhoods Committee discussion on the topic, which last addressed the issue in December.
“The City Council has the opportunity to eliminate any mention of Columbus Day in the administrative code and to join the growing movement across the nation declaring the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in the city of Los Angeles,” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who introduced the motion to establish Indigenous Peoples Day and is a member of the Wyandotte Native American tribe.
“Christopher Columbus’ legacy of extreme violence, enslavement, and brutality is not in dispute. Nor is the suffering, destruction of cultures, and subjugation of Los Angeles’ original indigenous people, who were here thousands of years before anyone else,” he said.
Rudy Ortega, Jr., tribal president of the Fernandeno Tataviam Tribe in San Fernando, attended the meeting to support the change. Ortega is also chairman of the Los Angeles City and County Native Americans Commission, which already voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
“The atrocities that Columbus caused against indigenous people are well known,” Ortega said. “Their cultures and identities were trampled and limited. [Renaming the holiday] would be a positive step — a way to identify the first people in America, identify their cultures, enhance them and celebrate them.”
The proposal has proven to be controversial, as many Italian-Americans view Columbus Day as a celebration of their national heritage.
Councilmember Joe Buscaino, who is an Italian-American, has called the proposal to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day “troubling” and divisive.
“I support the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day here in Los Angeles … but not at the expense of another cultural heritage,” Buscaino said in October.
O’Farrell’s original motion called for creating Indigenous People’s Day but did not specifically direct it to replace Columbus Day. A subsequent report from the Human Relations Commission made the recommendation to replace Columbus Day.
Observing a holiday like Columbus Day currently costs the city about $2 million in overtime and more than $9 million in “soft” costs from reduced productivity, the report said.
“Instituting an additional paid holiday would be a fiscal challenge, given all other budget priorities facing the city,” the report said.
The report found a consensus among Los Angeles stakeholders for adding an Indigenous Peoples Day but sharp disagreement in how the creation of the holiday should be done and if it should replace Columbus Day.
“I do think that they are two separate things and they’ve now unfairly been lumped into one, because when I come here and I stand here and say that I want Columbus Day to stay intact, I am looked at as if I don’t want the indigenous people recognized. And on behalf of all the groups I represent, that is not the intent,” Ann Potenza, president of the Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California, told the committee in December.
Los Angeles would not be the first city to replace Columbus Day, which is a federal holiday, with Indigenous Peoples Day. Nine cities in 2015 voted to do the same, and other cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz have also done so previously, as have several states.
In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the Columbus Day state holiday as part of a budget-cutting measure, but Los Angeles continues to observe the holiday as one of 12 where city workers get a paid day off.