Vermont will soon do away with Columbus Day and make the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day, if Gov. Phil Scott follows through on his plan to sign a bill that has passed the state’s legislature.
“I see no reason that I would not sign it, but we’re reviewing the bill as we speak,” Scott said, according to the Burlington Free Press.
Vermont has been recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day along with Columbus Day since 2016, when former Gov. Peter Shumlin began issuing proclamations to that effect.
Scott has continued that precedent of celebrating both the state holiday and the informally designated Indigenous People’s Day, but the law would now make it official.
Vermont’s Senate strongly supported the bill, but it faced contrary winds in the House of Representatives. Republican legislators sought to preserve Columbus Day and establish a February holiday for indigenous people.
The Vermont House turned back the Republican-led proposal 95-42 on Wednesday.
“I know it’s controversial from many standpoints, from many people, but you know, it’s just a day, and we’ll get through it,” Scott said. “And we’ve been treating it as something different over the last couple of years through resolutions. Without any technical difficulties within the bill, I’ll probably sign it.”
Maine is also considering a bill to change the name of the day. Last week, Maine’s bill received final legislative approval in the state’s Senate and is expected to be signed into law.
The bill had drawn debate in Maine’s House before passage last month, Maine Public Radio reported.
“Christopher Columbus, while making an important impact on history, was also a war criminal,” said state Rep. Rachel Talbot-Ross, a Portland Democrat.
“And is the symbolic genesis of the idea that Indigenous people of the Americas were a savage and inferior race that should be exterminated in order for progress and colonization,” she said.
Not everyone agreed.
State Rep. Roger Reed, a Republican from Carmel, said that the actions of Columbus are part of America’s history.
“But as regrettable as these are, they are still part of America’s’ story. We can’t change what has occurred in the past and we certainly don’t condone what has happened,” he said.
Oami Amarasingham, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said after the law’s Senate passage that the change was overdue.
“It’s time to stop celebrating a man whose arrival brought death, disease and slavery to hundreds of thousands, and start honoring the people who lived here long before,” Amarasingham said, according to the Bangor Daily News.
“I greatly respect the history of the Italian-Americans and their contribution, however, I think we can honor their presence here without this day, which really isn’t fitting,” Democratic legislator Ben Collings, who sponsored Maine’s legislation, has said, according to the Bangor Daily News.
New Mexico and South Dakota dropped Columbus Day to recognize indigenous peoples. Alaska, which also marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day, never had Columbus Day as an official state holiday.
“Things that are symbolic can carry very far,” Brattleboro’s Rich Holschuh, who belongs to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, said.
“The degree of disinformation and lack of understanding around the situation of native people in Vermont, as a microcosm of the national situation, is totally exemplified in the way that Columbus has been celebrated and the native people ignored. It’s not trivial and this kind of opens up an opportunity for that story to begin to change,” he added.