Heinrich, Luján, Torres Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Commemorate, Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day
U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to replace the official holiday recognized on the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The bill would also replace any mention of Columbus Day in all federal laws or regulations with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
More than a dozen states across the country have recognized this change, including New Mexico. In 2021, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. President to formally commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a federal holiday is a necessary next step to address generations of trauma and inequity.
“Federally designating Indigenous Peoples’ Day honors the strength and resilience of Tribal Nations while we continue our efforts to uplift Tribal communities and support Tribal sovereignty,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to stand with Tribes and Pueblos who have led the way to re-frame this national holiday to honor all of the significant contributions and diverse cultures of Tribal communities.”
“I’m proud to help lead the effort to officially designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” said Luján, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Just as we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in New Mexico, I hope to see Congress pass this legislation to do the same across the country. Native people play a vital role in society and in our nation’s history, especially in New Mexico – from serving in the military, teaching in the classroom, to running small businesses. Let Indigenous Peoples’ Day serve as a celebration of Tribal Nations and serve as a reminder of the work ahead to fulfill the federal government’s trust responsibility to Tribes and Pueblos.”
“Our country has long failed to recognize and acknowledge its dark history of erasure and harm brought upon the first inhabitants of the Americas,” said Torres. “The Indigenous Peoples’ Day Act celebrates the 600+ tribes that inhabited the Americas for hundreds of years before the arrival of Western explorers. By designating Indigenous Peoples’ Day a federal holiday, we take a small but important step toward recognizing the injustices in our nation’s history and uplifting the vibrant traditions, history, and culture of all Indigenous communities – an integral part of the cultural fabric of the United States.”
The legislation is supported by The Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, National Congress of American Indians, Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative, Association on American Indian Affairs, Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut Tribe, the Pocahontas Project, Cherokee Nation, National Council of Urban Indian Health, and Barona Band of Mission Indians.
“Recognizing and celebrating the rich histories, cultures, and contributions of indigenous peoples is an essential step towards promoting understanding, equality, and respect. By replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we acknowledge the resilience, wisdom, and enduring presence of indigenous communities, fostering unity and honoring the diverse tapestry of our nation’s heritage. My thanks go out to Senator Heinrich and Congresswoman Torres for the introduction of the Indigenous Peoples Day Act in their respective houses,” said Navajo Nation President Dr. Buu Nygren.
“Designating Indigenous Peoples Day as a federal holiday will go far in telling the true story of the contributions and sacrifices our ancestors made to help build this nation. Designating this Day will honor their perseverance and dedication to protect Tribal Sovereignty and our very ways of life, and we truly thank Senators Heinrich and Luján for advancing this important bill,” said Mescalero Apache Tribal President Bernalyn “Gina” Via.
“Long before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon this continent, many nations of Native people sustained thriving societies across this country,” said NCAI Executive Director Larry Wright, Jr. “NCAI applauds Senator Heinrich, Senator Luján, and Representative Torres for re-introducing legislation designed to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day and create space dedicated to acknowledging the rich histories, vibrant cultures, and resilience of contemporary tribal nations and their citizenry, and NCAI urges Congress to pass this bill and sign it into law as expeditiously as possible.”
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous People and recognizes our inherent sovereignty. While the story of America is one of slow and uneasy steps forward, the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day validates the ideas of this nation’s founding. As a nation, I hope we can right wrongs and take another step toward a more perfect union,” said Indigenous Peoples’ Initiative Chairman Dylan O. Baca.
In the Senate, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Read the full text of the bill here.