Salt Lake's first 'Indigenous Peoples Day' shifts focus from Columbus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) - Salt Lake City approved a measure last week that would allow Columbus Day to also be recognized within city limits as Indigenous Peoples Day. 

The move aimed to "inform our understanding of each's contributions to our national fabric without demeaning the significance of either," the Council said in statement read by Stan Penfold last week. The parallel holiday was applauded by local Native American communities, including Moroni Benally, co-founder of the Utah League of Native American Voters. 

"It really is, for us, about ending this legacy of violence and discrimination," said Benally, pointing to historical accounts that Columbus and his men killed thousands of indigenous people upon landing in the New World. "For Salt Lake City to acknowledge that is a huge step for building better relationships for all communities in the city," he added. 

Upon hearing the news of recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day in Salt Lake, some on social media decried the measure as "rewriting history," and ignoring the contributions of a great explorer. Columbus, who was Catholic, is regarded among many theologians as a man who broke through the ignorance of medieval times and paved the way for new discoveries. The Book of Mormon contains a passage regarded by many of the Latter-day Saint faith as a prophecy about Columbus's 1492 voyage. 

"And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren..." The Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 13:12

"This isn't about erasing Columbus from the theology of Mormonism," Benally said. "But why are we choosing a sanitized version of history over the real history?"

Sen. Jim Dabakis (D) introduced a state bill that proposed changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The bill failed. 

"Not only do we have 50,000 Native Americans, but they have been here for the last thousands of years. It's time that we honored these great pioneers in our state," Dabakis told ABC4 Utah. "What did Columbus ever do for Utah?"

Sen. Todd Weiler (R) of Woods Cross disagreed with Dabakis on ABC4 Utah's "Inside Utah Politics."

"We have an Indigenous Peoples Day in Utah, it's the Monday before Thanksgiving. It is in our state code. It has been a holiday for over a decade. Shame on us if we are not doing a good job of promoting it," he said. "We do not have to sacrifice Columbus Day to celebrate the indigenous people." 

Benally said the mid-November "holiday" isn't enough, adding that having a named holiday honoring Native Americans on Columbus Day makes a big statement. 

"[November's Indigenous Peoples Day] does nothing to address head-on the legacy of Columbus and what he did to native peoples," said Benally. "This [measure] does."



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