‘A great day’: House votes to put Indigenous Peoples Day on Columbus Day

In this file photo, the Git-Hoan Dancers of Metlakatla give their take on snapping selfies during a performance for Celebration 2016 at Centennial Hall. Celebration is a biennial festival that celebrates Alaska Native culture and the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. (Michale Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Alaska House of Representatives has approved a bill recognizing Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.

 

House Bill 78 was approved in a 31-7 vote Friday morning.

The vote places the holiday “on the same day that indigenous people discovered Christopher Columbus,” said bill sponsor Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, to general laughter Friday.

“It’s a great day to be indigenous,” he said.

Columbus Day is a federal holiday but not a state holiday — state workers are at their jobs on the second Monday in October.

HB 78 now advances to the Senate. If the measure is approved there, it would remain largely ceremonial. State workers would not have the day off.

Gov. Bill Walker has proclaimed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day for the past two years, and states including South Dakota and Vermont have passed laws similar to the one under consideration by the Legislature.

Westlake said Friday that the bill isn’t intended to replace Columbus Day, but to recognize that the discovery of America has two sides.

He said it’s a reminder of “the mingling of cultures that have made us so rich in everything that we do.”

Seven Republicans voted against the bill: David Eastman, Wasilla; DeLena Johnson, Wasilla; Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake; George Rauscher, R-Sutton; Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River; Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. Two Representatives were absent: Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks and Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks.

Rauscher, speaking Friday afternoon, said his vote against the bill was an attempt to avoid “years or decades of contention” about the meaning of the day. He said he wanted Alaska Natives and indigenous people to have their own day of “joy and celebration” undimmed by arguments.

Rauscher had on Wednesday supported an amendment making the second Sunday in October (instead of the second Monday in October) Indigenous Peoples Day.

That amendment was defeated, and the bill progressed to its floor vote.

HB 78 is awaiting committee hearings in the Senate.

Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or 419-7732.

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