The deeds of a long-dead Italian explorer have been celebrated in the U.S. for over 80 years.
But in Montana, Senate Bill 146 aims to remove Columbus Day from the docket of state holidays and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Seven other states — Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont and Oregon — have already replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, while Alabama and Oklahoma celebrate both holidays.
Montana Sen. Shane Morigeau wrote and sponsored the bill. This is not the first time he has brought this issue up in the legislature. Morigeau brought forth a similar bill in 2019, but it was killed in the Senate’s State Administration Committee. As of Monday, Feb. 15, SB 146 was in that very same committee.
“I thought we had a lot of great support last time and recognition of doing the right thing,” Morigeau said. “But I have pause for concern because this was the committee that killed it last time, and some of the same people are still there.”
The committee held a hearing on the bill last Wednesday, and over two dozen people spoke in support of the bill.
Republican Chair Doug Kary was a vice chair of the committee in 2019. Kary said he has not decided how he will vote on the bill, but he has spoken with some Native Americans, other than those who testified at the hearing, to inform his decision.
“I do want to get a feel from across the state and across the different tribes as to what’s what because I know we see a very jaded spectrum when we see it at committee,” he said.
Kary said he does not expect the bill to make it through the committee, but that doesn’t mean he won’t vote for it.
Aislyn Baker, the president of the Kyiyo Native American Student Association at The University of Montana, said her group organizes an annual powwow and helped with UM’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day activities last year.
Baker said an Indigenous Peoples’ Day would help bring unity to Indigenous people across Montana. It would create a reason for celebration on a day that has historically caused pain.
“When you think about it, it’s kind of disheartening to still know that that day is still happening,” Baker said. “I know it’s not a big thing, but it’s the meaning behind it that kind of hurts.”
Baker said she will be angry if the bill doesn’t pass, but she won’t be devastated.
“We all know what that day represents and how it all goes,” she said, regarding Columbus Day. “I’m not too twisted up about it just because you kind have to stand in your own truth and be confident in who you are, and I think a lot of Native people are like that.”
Morigeau hopes the bill will make it through committee, but the loss in 2019 still remains fresh.
“I’m not holding my breath,” Morigeau said. “I’m hoping that they keep an open ear and mind to learning about the horrific tragedies that came along with him [Columbus], and how that sends a message to people of color that ‘you’re inferior.’”