HELENA – The Montana House Wednesday endorsed a bill to replace Columbus Day as a state holiday in October with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The House voted 62-38 for House Bill 219, sponsored by Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula. Twenty Republicans joined all 42 House Democrats in support of the measure, which faces a final vote Thursday before heading to the Senate.
Native American lawmakers said Wednesday that celebrating Columbus is celebrating someone who brutalized and demeaned their people, when he came to America more than 500 years ago.
“The message that this sends to me and so many other citizens of Montana when we celebrate this, to me, it sends a signal that we’re second-class citizens,” Morigeau said. “And I don’t think that’s the intent of anyone in this body, but that’s how it makes me feel.”
Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, D-Browning, said asking Native Americans to celebrate Columbus is almost like asking Jews in Germany to celebrate the Holocaust.
Rep. Forrest Mandeville, a Republican from Columbus, said the holiday meant something different to him growing up, because it was seen as a celebration of his town, and that he would be voting no on the bill.
Yet Rep. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency and a member of the Crow Tribe, said the town of Columbus is within what was considered “Crow country” under early treaties, and that the second Crow agency headquarters were at nearby Absarokee.
She said the bill is “a rallying point of healing” in the long history of the state and its colonial past.
The bill, if enacted, creates Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a state holiday on the second Monday of October. It does not affect the federal Columbus Day holiday on the same date.