Kansas rep. celebrates ‘Columbus Day’; Native American lawmakers eager to rename holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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TOPEKA — State Rep. Ron Highland marked the observance of Columbus Day by leading an online tutorial Monday covering key constitutional principles, nuts and bolts of the legislative process and the challenge of developing water policy to meet needs of Kansas communities.

He noted there were 16 state and seven federal agencies with a hand in determining how government advanced the cause of quality drinking water.

“It’s complicated,” said Highland, a Wamego Republican and chairman of the House Water Committee. “It’s a minefield trying to get anything done on water in this state.”

Lawrence Rep. Christina Haswood, a Democratic member of the House Water Committee, said she found it curious Highland hosted an event intentionally labeled to bring attention to Columbus Day. She said timing of Highland’s program broadcast by the Legislature’s online site served as an example of how some legislators may not appreciate the history of Italian navigator Christopher Columbus’ influence on Native Americans.

Haswood, a member of the Navajo Nation, is co-sponsor of a House bill introduced in the 2021 legislative session to change the name of the Columbus Day state holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The House Federal and State Affairs Committee conducted a hearing on the bill in January, but took no further action.

“Columbus Day should be abolished at the state and federal level as we know now that Columbus never step foot in North America and has been traced to be a root cause of colonization and genocide of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas,” she said.

Indigenous communities lived in what became the United States for thousands of years before Columbus set sail in 1492 from Spain with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. He led several voyages and make landfall in the Caribbean, the eastern coast of Central America and the northern coast of South America.

Rep. Ponka-We Victors, a Wichita Democrat and a member of the member of the Ponca and Tohono O’odham tribes, said passage of the bill changing the day’s name to honor Indigenous people would help dispel the myth that Columbus discovered America. She said Columbus was a slave trader of Indigenous people and she alleged he supervised trafficking of Native American girls.

“Repealing Columbus Day will counter the negative images, stereotypes and false history that our children are subjected to during this time of year,” Victors said.

Alaska, Oregon, South Dakota and Vermont officially established the day as a holiday recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Other states and cities recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day through proclamations.


On Friday, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to formally proclaim Monday, Oct. 11, as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. He said the country should recognize the strength and resilience of Indigenous people as well as “the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the 3rd District Democrat and a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, is among sponsors in Congress of the Native American Voting Rights Act.

It would provide for tribal sovereignty in elections by empowering tribes to determine the number and location of voter registration sites, polling facilities and ballot drop boxes on reservations.

The federal measure would protect Native Americans’ exercise of their constitutional right to vote by prohibiting states from closing or consolidating these sites without tribal consent and would mandate that states with voter identification laws accepted tribal IDs.

“This is an issue of access and tribal sovereignty. It’s not about party affiliation,” she said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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