ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. >> A handful of states are celebrating their first Indigenous Peoples Day today as part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus.
New Mexico, Vermont and Maine are among the latest to pass measures doing away with Columbus Day celebrations in deference to Native Americans. The federal Columbus Day holiday remains in place.
In all, around 10 states observe some version of Indigenous Peoples Day, along with more than 100 U.S. cities. Washington, D.C., is celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day this year under a temporary measure.
Native American advocates for years have pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Columbus helped launched centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.
New Mexico marked its first statewide Indigenous Peoples Day with an invocation by several tribal leaders in unison in their native languages. Other events at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque included a parade and traditional dances.
Kimberlaigh Begay, 29, a member of the Navajo Nation, said she was inspired to see so many Native American tribes get together for a day of unity.
“When I was in school, it was all about Columbus Day and he discovered us,” Begay said. “Really? Because that’s not what our elders told us. We were already here.”
State offices in Maine also closed for the holiday. Maine, home to four federally recognized tribes, ditched Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day with an April bill signing by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
She said at the time she hoped the change would represent a move “toward healing, toward inclusiveness.” Tribes in Maine have had a rocky relationship with the state government over the years, and the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes withdrew representatives to the Legislature in 2015, when Republican Gov. Paul LePage was in office.
In New Hampshire, a bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was retained in committee this year and will be voted on in the early days of the next legislative session, which starts in January. At least two towns in the state have already renamed the holiday.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued proclamations recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day.
In Oklahoma, which is home to 39 tribes, today’s holiday is jointly marked as Oklahoma Native American Day and Columbus Day. Gov. Kevin Stitt, one of the first tribal members to be elected governor in the U.S., this year signed into law a measure that moved Native American Day from November to the second Monday in October.
California celebrates Native American Day in September. A group of Native American activists planned to board a dozen traditional canoes today to circumnavigate Alcatraz Island in an effort to reclaim the former federal prison as a symbol of indigenous rights.
Since 1990, South Dakota has marked the second Monday in October as Native Americans’ Day, an official state holiday, according to the Pew Research Center. In Hawaii it’s known as Discoverers’ Day, though it isn’t an official state holiday, the center said.
The change to Indigenous Peoples Day in a growing number of cities and states has prompted some backlash in conservative circles and among Italian Americans. University of Maine College Republicans, for example, have described the move as part of a “radical left-wing agenda.”
But Native Americans in some states have welcomed the change and said it was time to pay homage to Native Americans instead of Columbus.
Democratic New Mexico state Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, who sponsored that state’s legislation changing the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, said the day allows reflection on the United States’ complicated history. It’s also a chance to set the record straight about Columbus and the pain Native Americans suffered, Lente said.
Today, he played emcee to the state’s first Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, where dancers from Acoma Pueblo, the Navajo Nation, Mexico and Zuni Pueblo performed.
“We are still here. We are still resilient,” Lente said to a cheering crowd. “And we will be here forever.”