A Nebraska lawmaker has introduced legislation that would replace Columbus Day in the state with a holiday celebrating Native American Chief Standing Bear and other indigenous leaders.
On Jan. 17, Democratic state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks introduced bill LB 485, which would change the second Monday of October from Columbus Day to Chief Standing Bear and Indigenous Leaders’ Day. The legislation has received bipartisan support from seven other state senators.
Brooks represents Lincoln City, a Nebraska locality that had already voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day in September 2016, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
Standing Bear is a significant figure in Native American history. The Nebraska-based Ponca chief made U.S. history in 1879 when he secured federal recognition of Native Americans as human beings.
After his tribe was removed from its lands in 1877, Standing Bear attempted to return two years later to bury his late son. After being detained, the Poca chief contested his rights in court, resulting in a federal judge ruling that Native Americans were legally recognized as people.
"We don’t have a day honoring our first people," Brooks told the Omaha World-Herald. "Truly, Standing Bear is our Martin Luther King."
LB 485 would also recognize other historically significant Nebraska tribe leaders. The legislation proposes that the second Monday of every October should "honor Chief Standing Bear and … noble leaders of the state's indigenous peoples, including, but not limited to, Chief Blackbird, Chief Little Priest, and Big Eagle."
There has been a growing national debate over the continuation of Columbus Day as a national celebration, with the legacy of explorer Christopher Columbus coming under question from historians.
Dr. Leo Killsback, an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University who has advocated for the holiday to be replaced with Indigenous Peoples' Day in Phoenix, asserts that Columbus should not be honored for his deeds.
"One of the biggest misconceptions about Columbus is that he was righteous," Killsback told CNN. "The truth is that he was wicked and responsible for the rape and murder of innocent indigenous people. We should question why we as Americans continue to celebrate him without knowing the true history of his legacy, and why a holiday was created in the first place."
The efforts by U.S. cities and states in recent years to replace Columbus Day have been met with opposition from Italian Americans, who assert that the existing holiday is a significant recognition of their contribution to the formation of America.
George Matuella of Nebraska's Sons of Italy, a fraternal organization for Americans of Italian descent, pushed back on Brooks’ bill, asserting that it is unfair to replace Italian Americans’ day of celebration.
“Let them find their own day,” Matuella said. “We have ours. Why do they want to rewrite history?”