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Maine House Passes Measure That Would Change Columbus Day To Indigenous People's Day

The Maine House Tuesday voted to change the October holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus to Indigenous People’s Day.

Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1934, even though some states and cities had held celebrations of the Italian explorer as early as 1792. But several Maine lawmakers argued that Columbus’ historical importance to the continent has been exaggerated. They point out that, while he is hailed as the discoverer of America, Columbus never actually visited North America.

Rep. Rachel Talbot-Ross, a Democrat from Portland, says his actions as a conqueror of Indigenous people should not be celebrated.

“Christopher Columbus, while making an important impact on history, was also a war criminal,” Talbot-Ross says. “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.”

But Rep. Roger Reed, a Republican from Carmel, argued against the change. He says the actions of Columbus are a part of our 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 says.

Reed was joined by Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, a Republican from Knox, in urging rejection of the bill.

“As bad as it was, it’s our history. And forgetting that history eventually, as the saying goes, if you fail to learn it you repeat it,” says Kinney.

Kinney suggested leaving Columbus Day in place and creating a new indigenous peoples’ day. But for Representative Mike Sylvester, a Democrat from Portland, the issue is not about preserving history, but about setting an example for future generations.

“We cannot change what people stood for in the past, we can define what we stand for here today and what we hope for the Maine of the future,” says Sylvester.

The measure now goes to the Maine Senate and will face further votes in both chambers.