Columbus Day

Illinois Lawmaker Pushes to Change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day

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An Illinois lawmaker on Monday renewed her push to change the Columbus Day state holiday to Indigenous Peoples' Day.

"Today, must be the last day our state recognizes Columbus Day as a state holiday,” State Rep. Delia Ramirez, a Democrat from Chicago, said in a statement.

Columbus Day was marked this year by more discussions about what the city should do to mark the date, as well as what the fate of statues of the controversial explorer should be. NBC 5's Charlie Wojciechowski has the latest.

Ramirez introduced a bill in February, during the spring legislative session, the change the holiday and remove Columbus Day entirely from the state's holiday calendar. She said on Monday that she and a coalition of elected officials intended to reintroduce the measure when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Illinois currently recognizes Indigenous Peoples' Day as the last Monday in September after passing legislation designating the day in 2017. Ramirez said that was done "without the consultation of Indigenous groups in Illinois, who opposed the bill."

This year's Columbus Day comes amid a reinvigorated nationwide movement to replace the federally-recognized holiday altogether.

For several months, protesters across the county have called for the removal of statues of Columbus, saying that the Italian explorer is responsible for the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.

As the mythology around Christopher Columbus has been corrected, many are pushing to replace Columbus Day with a celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day. A cultural strategist and diversity expert, Lauren Wesley Wilson, joined LX News to discuss the importance of recognizing the oppressed rather than celebrating their oppressors.

In July, following chaotic protests in Chicago, statues of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park and Arrigo Park were taken down at the direction of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

"This step is about an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city's symbols," Lightfoot said at the time, calling the move temporary but not releasing further details on when the statues might be returned.

“The events of this summer have shown that removing racist symbols from public life is a critical part of the work we must do to address structural racism in our city and country," Ramirez said Monday. "This means taking down statues and ending holidays that celebrate white supremacy and genocide."

Earlier this year, Chicago Public Schools announced that Columbus Day would be replaced with Indigenous Peoples' Day on the school calendar.

The effort to change the holiday has angered some, particularly Italian Americans who want Columbus to be celebrated.

"Indigenous people deserve their own day," said Ron Onesti, vice president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans. "We want them to have their own holiday. We will march with them... We just don't believe that should be at the cost or the expense of our federal holiday."

Ramirez said the move to change the state holiday was supported by a coalition of elected officials and community advocates that include state Reps. Barbara Hernandez, Lakesia Collins, Carol Ammons, Kelly Cassidy, state Sen. Robert Peters, Cook County Commissioners Brandon Johnson and Alma Anaya, as well as Chicago Alds. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Daniel LaSpata.

“American Indians are still fighting for our survival, our lands and our rights. Each October, when this country celrebrates Columbus, the USA is celebrating the beginning of genocide, slavery and the dehumanizing effects of colonization on this Nation,” Les Begay, board member of the American Indian Center and enrolled member of the Dine Nation, said in a statement supporting Ramirez's bill.

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