Denver city government doesn’t officially recognize Columbus Day, but this year the state capital will join several other large cities in designating the same second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The move won’t make next Monday a city-observed holiday, with office closures, but several council members underlined what they saw as the symbolism behind the designation. The council approved the proposal 12-0 Monday night, prompting cheers and applause in the audience.

“Our city owes our very founding to the indigenous peoples in Denver,” Councilman Paul Lopez said, noting that Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes used land at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River as seasonal encampments.

“We do this because our history books erase such history,” Lopez said, adding: “You honor it by making it no longer invisible.”

Last October, the council passed a one-time proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. But this year the city is following Boulder, which in August became the 14th U.S. community to recognize an annual day honoring Native Americans. Other cities on the list include Albuquerque, Seattle, Minneapolis and Portland, Ore.

In Denver’s municipal code, the new designated day will follow the designation of Denver Day on the first Saturday of August. That day recognizes the city’s founding and its selection as the state capital.

Photo Credit: Jared Yazzie 

For nearly four decades, Native American activists and their supporters have pushed to supplant Columbus Day, still a federally recognized holiday celebrated in some places with parades. They cite the history of colonialism, enslavement and forced removals of tribes that followed explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492.

The council’s proposal says that “systemic destruction of Indigenous Peoples” resulted in “high poverty rates (and) disparities in education, health and socioeconomic status” in Native American communities.

Columbus Day is still a legal state holiday in Colorado. A bill to change the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day failed in the state legislature in April.

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