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Legislation would scrap Columbus Day, replace with Indigenous Peoples Day as state holiday

Educating students about Indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage would help create a more historically aware society, says the sponsor of a bill proposing to change a state holiday.

Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL-Moorhead) sponsors HF2856 that would replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day as a recognized state holiday, and would require schools, if in session, to organize programs about the history, culture, and issues related to Native Americans to mark the day.

The bill is a small step to fix historical injustices suffered by Indigenous peoples at the hands of settlers, Keeler said. It’s built around love, not hate, she told House Education Policy Committee Wednesday.

The committee approved the bill 11-7 and sent it to the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee. Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) was the only Republican on the committee to support it. He unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have offered programs to highlight the contributions of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on their birthdays.

Keeler said the amendment would dilute the spirit of Indigenous Peoples Day, which would be the second Monday in October, and a holiday in the executive branch of state government and political subdivisions.

Understanding the past means people won’t repeat the same mistakes that put native cultures on the margins of history. It’s about guarding native heritage, said Shelley Buck, tribal council vice president of the Prairie Island Indian Community.

Robert Larsen, president of the Lower Sioux Indian Community, sees the bill as an opportunity to learn and share the true history of Minnesota. “To do better together,” it should be received with open minds and open hearts, he said.

“It is appropriate to honor Native Americans, Indigenous peoples in our schools and have a special day where we focus on that,” said Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea).

Instead of eliminating an existing holiday, why not create a special day, she asked.

Columbus, who many consider to be a “bad actor,” is not worth celebrating, Keeler said. Her goal is to align the Indigenous Peoples Day with the ongoing national movement so that it’s celebrated the same day everywhere.

Sen. Mary Kunesh (DFL-New Brighton) sponsors the companion, SF2881, which awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.

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