By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
If Prince George’s Council member At-Large Mel Franklin has things his way, Native Americans will gain a new form of reparations on Columbus Day. Franklin is hoping to recognize the history, culture and accomplishments of Native Americans in Prince George’s County and across the nation by changing the name of Columbus Day to Native American Day in Prince George’s County.
Franklin introduced this piece of legislation during the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee meeting in late June. In addition to renaming the holiday a legal amendment to the section of the County code would also give County employees a compensated day off for Native American Day as well.
“This legislation is pretty straightforward. It is to elevate the recognition of the Native American community and Native American people who have a history of thousands of years in this region and regions across this country,” said Franklin who sponsored the bill. “It will recognize the need to change Columbus Day to Native American Day to more properly represent the legacy that we should be celebrating.”
Prior to the meeting, the board received a letter from the Piscataway Conoy Tribe that supported Franklin’s proposed bill. Rico Newman, a former historian with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian also addressed the committee. Newman, a representative of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, has done extensive research for the museum on the life of Christopher Columbus. He said that history has misrepresented reality of Columbus.
“A lot of things we were taught in school as kids were fake, false and need to be corrected,” Newman said. “To start by changing the name of this day, it’s one of the things that will start getting the ball rolling. I’m glad to see this done. I think that it’s the tip of the iceberg in getting information out about a lot of the things that need to be changed.
Christopher Columbus’ perception as a hero has been historically questioned. When he and his group of explorers landed in the Bahamas there is evidence to suggest that they forced the natives they found into slavery. Columbus, while serving as the governor of Hispaniola, is also believed to have punished citizens by torturing them.
According to History.com Columbus Day is the U.S. holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492. It was unofficially celebrated in a number of cities and states as early as the 18th century, but did not become a federal holiday until 1937. For many, the holiday has become a way of both honoring Columbus’ achievements and celebrating Italian-American heritage. However, Columbus Day and the man who inspired it has been controversial since the 1970s.
Several U.S. cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with alternative days of remembrance. Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and South Dakota have officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, as have cities like Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
The committee members voted unanimously to recommend that the entire County Council approve the bill.