LOS ANGELES — The City Council voted Aug. 30 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day as an official Los Angeles holiday, siding with critics who said the explorer’s connection to brutality and slavery makes him unworthy of celebration.
In approving the switch, the council also rejected a late push by Councilman Joe Buscaino through an amending motion to have Indigenous Peoples Day take place on Aug. 9 and a second new holiday celebrating the diverse cultures of Los Angeles replace Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.
The idea of getting rid of Columbus Day drew opposition from many Italian-Americans who view the day as a celebration of their national heritage because of Columbus’ Italian lineage.
Buscaino, who is an Italian-American, last year called the proposal to replace Columbus Day “troubling” and divisive, but failed to convince enough council members to replace it with a diversity day.
“With or without Columbus, Italians will continue to celebrate their sacrifices and contributions to this great country and our great city,” Buscaino said after the vote.
Buscaino’s motion would have sent the naming of Indigenous Peoples Day on Aug. 9 and a new diversity day in October back to a committee and city staff for further examination, but it was rejected by a vote of 11-4. A subsequent vote to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day passed 14-1, with Buscaino opposed.
Branamir Kvartuc, Buscaino’s spokesman, had previously said the councilman’s proposed new holiday could be called Embrace L.A. Day, but that specific language was not in the amending motion. Buscaino argued for Aug. 9 because that is the day the United Nations recognizes Indigenous Peoples Day.
The council ultimately sided with council members Mitch O’Farrell and Mike Bonin, who both argued that the strong symbolism of directly replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was too important to overlook.
“Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is a very small step in apologizing and in making amends,” Bonin said.
In June, the Elections, Intergovernmental Relations and Neighborhoods Committee voted 3-0 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. It also recommended that Oct. 12 be recognized as Italian American Heritage Day in the city, although it would not be a paid official holiday for city employees, which the council’s vote approved.
The vote also directs the city administrative officer to provide a report on the process of implementing an additional city holiday that recognizes the contributions of all of the diverse cultures in the city, but does not name a specific date.
In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the Columbus Day state holiday as part of a budget-cutting measure, but Los Angeles has continued to observe the holiday as one of 12 paid days off for city workers.
Observing a holiday like Columbus Day costs the city about $2 million in overtime and more than $9 million in “soft” costs from reduced productivity, according to a Human Relations Commission report, so creating a 13th holiday would affect the city’s budget.
“Instituting an additional paid holiday would be a fiscal challenge, given all other budget priorities facing the city,’” the report said.
Kvartuc noted that the city did not have a paid holiday in August.
After the vote, Buscaino said the holiday also could have replaced a floating holiday for city employees had it gone back to committee.
O’Farrell, who is a member of the Wyandotte Native American Tribe, introduced a motion in November 2015 instructing the Human Relations Commission, with the assistance of the Los Angeles City and County Native American Commission, to report back on the historical importance and cultural impact of establishing Indigenous Peoples Day.
The councilman said he introduced the resolution because of what he called “Columbus’ legacy of extreme violence, enslavement and brutality” and “the suffering, destruction of cultures, and subjugation of Los Angeles’ original indigenous people, who were here thousands of years before anyone else.”
Columbus Day has long been a divisive holiday due to some historians’ conclusion that he committed acts of brutality on the native people he encountered and was involved in slave trading.
The National Christopher Columbus Association called for the city to keep Columbus Day, insisting he was not responsible for the genocide committed by the Europeans who followed him.
“It is a huge error to blame Christopher Columbus the man for [genocide] at all,” Patrick Korten, a board member of the National Christopher Columbus Association, told City News Service. “He bore no responsibility for it and as a matter of fact, if you do the slightest little bit of history on the man and read his diaries, and what was said about him following the years of the discovery, it is clear that Columbus personally had great affection for the indigenous people he encountered and went out of his way to order his men not to abuse them in any fashion.”
O’Farrell’s original motion called for creating Indigenous Peoples Day but did not specifically direct it to replace Columbus Day. A subsequent report from the Human Relations Commission made the recommendation to replace Columbus Day.
The vote has Los Angeles joining such cities as Seattle, Minneapolis, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, along with five states, in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus Day still is a federal holiday.