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SF to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

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A tour bus rolls down Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood on Wednesday. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco may decide Tuesday to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

The proposal comes amid a growing trend nationwide to no longer celebrate the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of America. The holiday dates back to 1937.

Native American activists have waged a campaign since the 1970s to do away with the holiday that falls on the second Monday in October because they argue it erroneously celebrates the discovery of a land already inhabited, and honors the start of colonization that decimated their ancestors.

Legislation introduced by Supervisor Malia Cohen would amend The City’s administrative code “to declare the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples Day.”

It would require that “all official city communications, notices, calendars, and other publications, whether electronic or paper, shall refer to that day as Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day.”

“It’s incredibly important and quite frankly overdue,” Cohen said during last week’s hearing on the proposal at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee. The full board votes on the legislation Tuesday.

Berkeley became the first city in the nation to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992, and dozens of other cities and states have since followed suit.

But the movement has struck a sour note with some Italian-Americans, who see Columbus Day as a time to celebrate their own heritage.

Guido Perego, president of North Beach’s San Francisco Italian Athletic Club, said Friday he opposes the proposal.

“I’m having a hard time understanding why they want to take a day away,” Perego said. He suggested they should pick another date.

He added that Columbus Day was “meant to be inclusive” and that the supervisors should reconsider. “They need to think carefully. They are going to create a division,” Perego said.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said at the committee hearing that the legislation “in many ways is about dignity and respect” for the Native American community.

The legislation acknowledges that colonialism decimated the Native American population. “Indigenous nations have lived upon this land since time immemorial. The city and county of San Francisco recognizes that the original inhabitants of the area now known as San Francisco were the Muwekma Ohlone tribe,” the legislation reads. “San Francisco recognizes the historic discrimination and violence inflicted upon indigenous peoples in the United States, including their forced removal from ancestral lands, and the deliberate and systematic destruction of their communities and culture.”

The legislation also refers to a 2007 city report from the Human Rights Commission, “Discrimination by Omission: Issues of Concern for Native Americans in San Francisco.”

“For Native Americans, a federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus is an insulting gesture. For millions, 1492 marked the beginning of the implementation of policies designed to systematically exterminate Native American people and their cultures,” the 2007 report said.

The report not only recommended The City establish an Indigenous Peoples Day “to increase Native American visibility and pride,” but also that “The City explore a way to celebrate the contributions of Italian Americans and their heritage without honoring Christopher Columbus” and “The City change the names of Junipero Serra Boulevard and Columbus Avenue to names that do not honor people who conquered or brought great harm to Native Americans.”

The proposal would not cut off groups who do continue to recognize and celebrate Columbus Day, according to an amendment made to the proposal last week. “Nothing in this section shall prohibit The City from providing funds or support to events that commemorate or celebrate the holiday using the name Columbus Day or other descriptors,” the legislation reads.

Tony Ortiz said he was born and raised in San Francisco and “has a rich history” with Sicilian grandparents who moved to The City in the 1920s and a “mixed background of Native Apache” from his family from New Mexico who came to The City in the 1930s.

“This is a great opportunity to bring healing to the communities, to create awareness of the communities, create dialogue with our children and our youth,” Ortiz said of the legislation.

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