Politicians renew call to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

“Today must be the last day our state recognizes Columbus Day as a state holiday,” state Rep. Delia Ramirez said.

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State Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago.

State Rep. Delia Ramirez and other state and county officials called Monday to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day beginning next year.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

State and county politicians renewed calls Monday to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

“Removing racist symbols from public life is a critical part of the work we must do to address structural racism in our city, in our county, in our state and in our country,” said state Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Chicago. “This means taking down statues and ending holidays that celebrate white supremacy and genocide.”

Ramirez vowed to reintroduce a bill to make Indigenous Peoples Day a state holiday instead of Columbus Day. The bill was shelved earlier this year after the spring legislative session was cut short due to COVID-19.

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., observe Indigenous Peoples Day, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. In Illinois, Evanston and Oak Park have adopted the holiday.

“To continue the myth of Columbus and to ignore the atrocities he committed against Native people further perpetuates and erases the rich history of Native people,” said Les Begay, treasurer of the American Indian Center. He said more than 65,000 Native Americans live in Illinois.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said he and Commissioner Alma Anaya will sponsor an ordinance to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day at the county level.

“I also recognize that in the midst of these very difficult times that our country is facing right now and what we’re experiencing at the county level, that we have to begin to heal the age-old past,” Johnson said.

The bill will need at least 60 votes in the Illinois House of Representatives and at least 30 in the state Senate, which means there’s still “a lot of work” to do, Ramirez said.

Ramirez said she will work with the American Indian Center and other Indigenous groups in the state on the legislation, hoping that next year, the state “will no longer continue to honor a man that represents genocide, white supremacy [and] colonization of our people.”

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