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Legislature considers changing Columbus Day to Montana Heritage Day

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – Montana lawmakers are considering changing the name of Columbus Day to Montana Heritage Day.

Many proponents of House Bill 322, like Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said part of it is about correcting misinformation about the discovery of America.

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder

“As a young fella, I thought it was really, really cool, you know, that we had this guy by the name of Christopher Columbus came over and discovered America,” Windy Boy said. “But later on in years, when I was talking to my elders, they were telling me that we were always here, we were always here, we weren’t discovered.”

There was no opposition to the bill at the House State Administration Committee hearing Wednesday morning.

According to the Library of Congress, the first official celebration of Columbus Day was in 1892, marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in America. In a proclamation, the president at the time, Benjamin Harrison, said Columbus was “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment.”

Some cities and states have now taken the same holiday and renamed it “Indigenous People’s Day,” or “Native Americans’ Day.” South Dakota officially switched the name to Native Americans’ Day in 1990, and Vermont switched the 2016 holiday to Indigenous People’s Day.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bridget Smith, D-Wolf Point, says she too likes the term Indigenous People’s Day, and highly respects the wish of other proponents to change Columbus Day to that. But, she said, “I also value all of us coming together.”

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.