Indigenous Peoples’ Day would replace Columbus Day in Maryland if a bill in the General Assembly is passed this legislative session.

At a hearing on Thursday, members of different advocacy groups testified for and against the bill, which would take effect on Oct. 1, 2021.

Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October. The bill, SB0421 and its cross-file, HB0157, would replace references in state education, commercial law, financial institutions and general provisions.

When Columbus came to the Americas, a way of life was destroyed, said Natalie Proctor, tribal chair of the Cedarville Wild Turkey Clan of Piscataway Tribe.

Many Europeans were excited to come to the “New World” and get access to food, land and education, Proctor said in written testimony shared with Capital News Service.

A protester at the Indigenous Peoples March on January 18, 2019, holds a “Make Native American Great Again!” sign in Washington, D.C. Credit: Ambriah S. Underwood / Capital News Service

However, this “American Dream” was not created by Columbus, Proctor said.

“Instead, it was all because of the sacrifices of the Indigenous human,” she said.

This bill is important to show that Indigenous people are not a thing of the past and do not only live in history books, Jennifer Folayan testified on Thursday. Folayan is of Cherokee, Pueblo and Aztec descent and serves on the Board of Directors for the Baltimore American Indian Center.

“Too often our history is erased,” Folayan said.

However, opponents of the bill argue that it would erase a different side of history.

There were some great things Columbus did, said Bill Martin, chairman of the Associated Italian American Charities of Maryland. He was an inspiration for Italians to come to America in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Martin testified on Thursday.

“By changing this, it’s all positive making this Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but what’s happening is you’re hurting a whole other ethnic group,” Martin said.

The bill takes away a holiday where Italian Americans celebrate their heritage, said former state Sen. John Pica, president of Columbus Celebrations, which organizes the Columbus Day parade in Baltimore.

There should be an Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but in having one, Maryland shouldn’t take away something from another group of people, Pica said.

Protestors toppled Baltimore’s Christopher Columbus statue last year on July 4, signaling to the state that many people believe this man shouldn’t be celebrated at all.

If people are going to start changing holidays and statues, remember that it will continue and there will always be a holiday or figure that people will find a reason to come after, Martin said in the hearing.

Sponsor of the bill Sen. Obie Patterson, D-Prince George’s, said that 15 other states have a combined celebration day in October, and asked what the witnesses think about this as a possible solution.

While she would support a day celebrating Italian American heritage, Folayan said a combined day is problematic because of the continued association with Columbus.

A House of Delegates committee is scheduled to hear that chamber’s bill on Tuesday.

This article originally appeared on on Friday, March 12, 2021.

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