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Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognized, but won’t replace Columbus Day in Clark County

Updated October 11, 2020 - 4:43 pm

The Clark County Commission unanimously agreed to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day once a year — but lawmakers were clear that the new designation would not replace beleaguered Columbus Day despite sharing the same date.

Beginning in 2021, every second Monday in October will be designated Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in part, to acknowledge past injustices to all Native Americans and as a gesture of reconciliation, according to the county.

It is the same day as Columbus Day, a federal holiday.

But the county, unlike some cities such as Reno, Baltimore and Minneapolis, did not go as far as to replace Columbus Day. The new day is also not a holiday, which the county cannot legally create.

“This is just to honor indigenous people,” said county Commissioner Tick Segerblom, who requested the resolution approved last week. For this year only, Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be celebrated in the county on Oct. 14.

Debate over Columbus Day

In recent years, there has been a movement among local and state governments to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. There are more than 100 municipalities that do so now, according to the county.

In some cases, it coincides with Columbus Day; in others, it replaces a holiday that has become viewed increasingly unfavorably under a historical lens. Native Americans suffered greatly under violent colonization by Europeans, including Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

When Segerblom introduced the idea of designating Indigenous Peoples’ Day last year, Commissioner Larry Brown said he was concerned it was an either/or prospect. But he supported the approach of co-existence as brought forth Tuesday, pointing to how Columbus Day meant something to Italian Americans, excluding the atrocities the explorer had committed.

Taylor Patterson, the executive director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada, which lobbied the commission for the designation, clarified that the push was intended to give Native Americans “equal billing” and not to take away from Italian Americans who celebrate heritage on the holiday that was created in 1937.

‘Everybody really knows the Columbus story’

Patterson said she has even spoken to Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson about jointly recognizing Native and Italian Americans at the state level.

“Everybody really knows the Columbus story, but not a lot of people can tell you about the tribes here in Southern Nevada or the history of our people,” she said.

In 2017, the Legislature unanimously passed a law that authorizes the governor to declare Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Nevada, but on Aug. 9, to coincide with the United Nations’ recognition of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval.

According to the county resolution designating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it recognizes indigenous people as traditional stewards of U.S. land, where there are 573 federally recognized tribes.

Nevada is home to 20 such tribes, comprising 27 tribal communities, including the Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribe and Las Vegas Paiute Tribe. In the county, there are more than 50,000 urban natives of tribal nations from across the U.S., according to the resolution.

“This is the real meat of what we’re trying to do today, is really just recognize indigenous peoples’ places in the history of Nevada and in the history of Clark County,” Patterson said. “It’s important for us to have this resolution so that we can push forward the knowledge and all of the historical accuracy that lacks in the current curriculum, not just in Clark County but in the entire country as well.”

A Change.org petition urging commissioners to approve the designation had garnered more than 600 signatures by Tuesday.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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