The Salt Lake City Council has designated Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October — also known as Columbus Day.
“Celebrating the two holidays the same day is a way to inform our understanding of each’s contributions to our national fabric without demeaning the significance of either,” council Chairman Stan Penfold read from a prepared statement.
Tuesday night’s unanimous vote came after advocates for the resolution gathered around a drum circle in front of City Hall, then turned east toward the Wasatch Mountains to join in prayer.
“These prayers are much older than the city of Salt Lake,” said Utah League of Native American Voters co-founder Moroni Benally. “Much older than America. So we honor these prayers.”
The resolution was prompted by the league, which said in a Monday news release that 26 other cities nationwide have named an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day.
“This change, while symbolic, is about recognizing the contributions, history and sacrifices made by the original inhabitants of the area,” Benally said in the news release. “It is about correcting history and building a stronger country.”
The council’s resolution didn’t say, however, that Indigenous Peoples’ Day would replace Columbus Day, or that it would supplant the state’s existing Indigenous People Day, celebrated on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
That point was stressed in Penfold’s statement, read in response to opposition from Italian-Americans who had learned about the resolution from the news media.
The Italian American Civic League of Utah sent the City Council a letter Sept. 26, understanding the proposed resolution as the rejection of Columbus Day — “an uncalled-for affront to our culture” and “degrading and demeaning to all Italian-Americans.”
Nick Fuoco, a board member with the group, said Tuesday that sponsor Charlie Luke had ignored letters, emails and phone calls.
“To us, Columbus Day is about the legacy of Italian-Americans and immigrants in general, and we were hoping for any sort of dialogue with the City Council,” he said. “Plus, we think it’s a little bit odd that Salt Lake City is going to recognize two indigenous peoples’ days in one year.”
Fuoco added that Columbus should be judged by the standards of his own time. To “relitigate” historical figures is a slippery slope, he said.
“Should we tear down every Brigham Young statue in the state because Brigham Young was associated with the Mountain Meadows massacre?”
Benally said Tuesday that the league’s effort was an attempt to pick up the baton from State Sen. Jim Dabakis, who ran a more strongly worded bill in 2016 that died in the Senate. That the resolution didn’t mention Columbus Day was fine, Benally said, because the city has no power to negate a federal holiday.
Dabakis addressed the Washington Square crowd Tuesday, saying, “What the hell did Christopher Columbus do for Utah anyway?” before telling attendees that an American Indian had never served in Utah’s Legislature, and urging them to vote.
Carol Surveyor, a Navajo a co-founder of the league who is challenging Rep. Chris Stewart for his District 2 seat in Congress, said American Indians have been erased from history books while the nation’s children honor a time of genocide.
“When was the last time anyone told you that we are important?” she asked the crowd. “These are words we do not hear at all.”
A central aim of the resolution is to better educate the community and improve the self-esteem of American Indian youths, Benally said. Council members called upon Salt Lake City’s public schools “to teach about the culture, government and history of indigenous peoples on this day and encourages residents, businesses, organizations and public institutions to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”