The Reno City Council last week approved a resolution recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The recognition will not supplant the federally recognized Columbus Day on October 14, however, but it does note that the city recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day.
Councilmember Oscar Delgado raised a concern after an initial draft of the city’s proclamation did not mention Columbus Day.
“One of the issues that I have with not removing Columbus Day and putting in Indigenous Peoples Day is, really, it’s not answering the very question in terms of why we’re even doing this,” he said. “I think the really big idea we need to consider here is that it’s really an acknowledgment that we’re rejecting oppression, that we’re rejecting systematic racism, that we’re rejecting these things.
“We’re not really doing that if we’re saying we’re moving forward with Columbus Day,” Delgado added.
The council’s adoption of the resolution came from the city’s Human Rights Commission, which put forward the effort. Ray Valdez wrote the language for city resolution, and the commission worked with staff to modify it. Valdez was joined by tribal members and supporters in August when they asked the city to remove Columbus Day from city recognition.
There’s been a simmering discontentment since the Columbus Day incident of 2016 when Nicholas Mahaffey, who is white, plowed through a crowd of Columbus Day protestors downtown.
“I believe the time has come for us to acknowledge that Columbus Day is not something we need to celebrate.”
He ran over one protestor with his truck after being punched by two of the activists. Mahaffey faced charges for provoking an assault, and the two protestors faced simple battery charges.
Activists, who were advocating at that time for the adoption of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, wanted to see Mahaffey face hate crime charges. That didn’t happen. The Reno City Attorney’s Office said that there was not enough evidence to support a prosecution for such charges.
Raquel Arthur, with the American Indian Movement of Northern Nevada, was critical of the city’s handling of the incident at the time.
“We are disappointed in the charges brought against the driver. It is unreasonable that the victims of this hate crime are being charged. We demand their release,” she said.
Valdez told the City Council in August that First Nations people are still healing from the incident, which made national headlines.
“We’re still healing. We’re doing alright. Look at us,” Valdez said. “We’re asking you to meet us halfway somehow. Join us. It’s time to move forward. We’re coming as natives, saying okay.
“What is really said is that in the end, it was all about preventing Native Americans of thinking we’re even human beings.”
Valdez said the proclamation had hundreds of local supporters.
Councilmember Devor Reese said that Columbus Day, because it is a federal holiday, won’t be impacted by the city’s adoption of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“I believe the time has come for us to acknowledge that Columbus Day is not something we need to celebrate,” he said. “Obviously, we are not the federal government, so states and cities across the county can choose not to observe this particular day.
Only two cities, according to City of Reno staff, have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Numerous other municipalities recognize both days either formally or by not mentioning Columbus Day.
“I think the Human Rights Commission, looking at those examples, felt strongly that we should recognize Indigenous People’s Day but didn’t necessarily feel that we needed to go so far as to abolish Columbus Day,” said Tess Opferman, the city’s community liaison.
Reese, however, proposed that the city’s proclamation make note that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is being recognized in place of any official Columbus Day recognition by the City of Reno.
His motion unanimously passed.
Indigenous Peoples Day began in 1989 in South Dakota.
This article is published in partnership with in the Reno News & Review. It is available in their print edition and online.