LOS ANGELES: The city of Los Angeles celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, joining the growing ranks of local governments across the country replacing the traditional Columbus Day holiday with observances of Native American history and culture.
The daylong commemoration began with a sunrise ceremony by native American residents, some in traditional dress, followed by a 5km run through downtown led by City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, himself a member of the Wyandotte Nation who grew up in Oklahoma.
O’Farrell was principal sponsor of legislation the council passed last year designating the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day in the nation’s second-largest city.
As with the old holiday, government offices, courts, banks and many businesses were closed.
The inaugural observance was to be capped Monday night with an outdoor concert headlined by the Grammy-winning group Black Eyed Peas and the Native American rock band Redbone.
Los Angeles, whose earliest settlers belonged to the Gabrielino-Tongva peoples, is home to the largest indigenous population of any U.S. city, according to the UCLA American Indian Studies Centre.
A growing number of U.S. cities since the 1990s have replaced Columbus Day with a holiday honouring indigenous people. Others include San Francisco; Denver; Seattle; Minneapolis; Anchorage, Alaska; Phoenix; Portland, Oregon; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A handful of states, from South Dakota and Hawaii to Vermont and Minnesota, have done likewise.
Critics of Columbus Day, proclaimed a national holiday in the 1930s, say it has perpetuated a false historical narrative surrounding Christopher Columbus, the Italian-born explorer credited with “discovering America” when the first of his four trans-Atlantic voyages for the Spanish crown landed on an inhabited island of the Bahamas in 1492.
While Columbus was long hailed for bringing European civilisation and settlement to the New World, present-day scholars acknowledge a far more complicated legacy including enslavement and subjugation of the indigenous inhabitants he encountered.
“Columbus’ landfall ushered in one of the greatest injustices in human history: the wholesale transfer of wealth and lands from native peoples to Europeans,” Steven Hackel, a University of California, Riverside history professor, said in a column published last year by the Los Angeles Times.
Chief Red Blood Anthony Morales of the Gabrielino-Tongva of San Gabriel said the new holiday corrects an epic myth.
“It’s something that has been instilled in us since in school that in 1492 Columbus was this great guy who was an explorer and adventurer that was going to be a good person to us.
“But as we get older we learned otherwise,” he said at Monday’s ceremony. “The truth is out, and this is why it is so historical and meaningful for me.”