CONCORD — Democratic representatives Tim Horrigan of Dover and Amanda Bouldin of Manchester tried last year to get a bill passed that would change the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in New Hampshire.
They were soundly defeated, as the bill was referred to interim study, where lawmakers voted 12-1 on Oct. 29 that the bill is not recommended for future legislation.
But with a newly elected Democratic majority in place, they’re back again this year with a similar bill that attracted a standing room only crowd to the State House hearing room on Wednesday.
Four states and about 50 cities officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. The states are Alaska, Minnesota, Vermont and South Dakota (which calls it Native American Day). Nevada celebrates indigenous people on a different day than Columbus Day.
The topic stirs emotions on both sides, as was evident at Wednesday’s hearing.
“This was inspired by a local controversy in Durham, one of the first communities to change its town holiday,” said Horrigan. “Columbus, as we all know, did not discover America. There were already millions of people living here in 1492.”
Horrigan described the explorer’s voyages to the continent as “violent and destructive, even by the standards of our century. He doesn’t need to have a state holiday.”
“It’s fairly controversial, but it’s a simple change that reflects a grassroots movement that’s taken hold in Durham and other communities across the state and across the country,” said Horrigan.
State Rep. Chris True, R-Sandown, summed up the opposition when he said, “History is chock-full of terrible and horrible incidents. Columbus was not a saint, but neither were the indigenous people. If we are going to attempt to erase our history so that bad people and bad actions are forgotten, then history class would be a short class.”
Republican Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, citing his Italian heritage, said the change would be particularly offensive to Italian Americans.
“New Hampshire has a very large Italian community,” he said. “We’re very big in New Hampshire. It would be an insult to them to pass this bill.”
The New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union supports the bill.
“For some, Columbus Day is a federal holiday and a day off for many workers,” said Jeanne Hruska, political director for the ACLU-NH.
“For Native Americans, it is not a day of celebration. It is a day to remember the invasion of 1492 that led to murder, illness, robbery, rape, kidnapping, assimilation and relocation.”
Gov. Chris Sununu says the issue isn’t even on his radar.
“State law designates the second Monday in October as Columbus Day,” he said. “Changing this designation is the prerogative of the Legislature, and is not something I am focused on.”