Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, who is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, testifies on behalf of his Senate Bill 141, which would have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Montana. (Screenshot via Montana Public Affairs Network)
The latest attempt to replace Columbus Day in Montana with Indigenous Peoples’ Day was tabled Monday on a party-line vote.
Around 30 people testified last week on behalf of this year’s attempt to change the holiday, which was again sponsored Sen. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, who is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Multiple prior attempts to create the holiday in Montana also failed.
No one testified in opposition to Senate Bill 141 at last Wednesday’s hearing.
Morigeau said at the hearing the bill would help the healing process for Indigenous people, who make up about 6% of Montana’s current population, as well as others in the state, and stop Montana from honoring a man who attacked and killed Native peoples.
Speaking in opposition to the bill’s passage during executive action in the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee on Monday, Sen. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, said since Montana schools already recognize American Indian Heritage Day on the fourth Friday in September, he believed that was “sufficient to meet the goals of this day.”
Further, he said people who testified in favor of the bill last week who condemned Columbus and his actions were using today’s values to judge him rather than the context of the time.
“All historical characters need to be evaluated in their context,” he said.
Fuller said Columbus was a skilled seafarer, discovered trade winds and “began the geographic revolution.” He added that Italian immigrants to the U.S. had faced “the same hatred, discrimination and bigotry that the Irish and Native Indians have faced.”
Sen. Russ Tempel, R-Chester, the committee’s vice chairman, motioned to table the bill. All seven Republicans on the committee voted to do so, while the four Democrats voted against tabling it.
In a written statement, Morigeau said he and others would keep pushing for the change, which President Joe Biden commemorated with a presidential proclamation in 2021. Bozeman and more than a dozen states celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
He said it was “a shame” the measure was tabled without it getting further conversation.
“It was very disheartening to sit in the hearing and listen to children testify on how Columbus Day impacts them, their confidence, and their self-worth,” Morigeau said in the statement. “We will continue to advocate for a day that brings us together and celebrates everyone’s ancestral heritage.”
Sen. Susan Webber, D-Browning, who is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and voted against tabling the bill, said she took exception to Fuller’s comments and the measure dying in committee.
“I don’t care if you are in 1492, 1992, or 2002; raping women and children, cutting hands off of men and women, and burning people alive is more than enough to say that this man should not be celebrated,” Webber said in a statement. “Our children need to know the truth, not the whitewashed vision of a supposedly great seafarer who discovered Española because he got lost.”
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