Oct. 14, 2019, marked the last Columbus Day in Prince George’s County. Next year, the holiday will be known as Native American Day.
The Prince George’s County Council voted last month to make the holiday change and the legislation passed unanimously. The county’s new designation, per the language of the legislation, serves to “recogniz[e] the history, culture, and accomplishments of the Native Americans in Prince George’s County and across the nation. …”
It was first read to the council on April 2, according to past meeting minutes. Over the next few months, it went on to the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee where it was amended and recommended to the full council with a vote of 4-0. The change was enacted in a 10-0 vote by the full council on Sept. 10.
“The native and indigenous peoples of Prince George’s County and the United States have significantly contributed to the rich fabric of history and culture we celebrate in our communities and should be rightly recognized,” At-Large Council Member Mel Franklin (D), who proposed the legislation, said in a press release. “Whether it is the Piscataway-Conoy tribe in the county, or the many Native American tribes indigenous to every region of our nation, recognizing their place as the ‘First Americans’ is long overdue.”
Evidence of the first celebration of the Columbus holiday goes back as far as the late 1700s, according to the Library of Congress, but it wasn’t deemed a national holiday until 1934 and wasn’t celebrated on the second Monday of October, and as a federal holiday, until 1971. Before then, Oct. 12 was the holiday’s date.
The day was designed to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Bahamas in 1492. For many people, his landing is nothing to be celebrated. It highlights the start of anguish, suffering and death of many indigenous people.
“I feel that you can’t discover something … in an area where people already exist,” said County Council Member Deni Taveras (D), a supporter of the new legislation. Looking back at history, “it’s very disheartening because some of those remnants, historically, are still visible to this day in regards to how we treat [some indigenous people].”
Taveras said she represents a community where over 50% of the population was born in a different country and where some members come from indigenous backgrounds.
“I myself come from roots of what occurred,” she added. “Columbus landed in the country of my parents’ birth and there were no indigenous people left behind.”
”This is an opportunity to highlight a people and a culture and show them the respect that they’ve always deserved,” Taveras said.
Prince George’s isn’t the first jurisdiction in the nation to make this change. Washington D.C., Newark and Princeton, N.J., four cities in Virginia, Hawai’i, New Mexico and many other states, cities and towns have changed Columbus Day to Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.
The first Native American Day in Prince George’s will be celebrated on Oct. 12, 2020.