New debate over old wounds surfaces in Indio as Columbus Day approaches

The Indio City Council will issue a proclamation at tonight’s regular meeting about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but some residents say that it doesn’t go far enough. They want the holiday to be made official.
A protester stands over the toppled statue of Christopher Columbus on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds in June 2020.

The conversation around changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day is ramping up before the official holiday on Monday.

Looking back: The counter-celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day originally started in 1977. It’s meant to shift the focus from Christopher Columbus, whose genocide against Native Americans beginning in the 15th century has been well documented by modern-day historians and by Columbus’s own contemporaries. 

Zoom in: Last month, the city of Coachella became the first city in the valley to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

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  • During a regular City Council meeting, Councilmember Megan Beaman Jacinto noted that it’s important to recognize the day not just because of the local tribes, but because Coachella is home to one of the largest populations of Purépecha people outside of Mexico. 
  • “I’m honored to take this roll call [vote] because my grandmother is Purépecha. So this is awesome.” — Coachella City Clerk Angela Zepeda prior to recording the unanimous vote

Meanwhile, talks in Indio have stalled. In 2020, then-Councilmember Oscar Ortiz asked the Indio City Council to bring the issue up for a vote. “The history of Columbus — he led an extremely racist genocide involving slavery, system torture, and sexual violence against indigenous people,” Ortiz said. “We need to follow the lead of other states and cities in America and it over to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

  • Ortiz had one supporter at the time —  fellow Councilmember Waymond Fermon, the city’s current mayor. Glenn Miller (who was mayor at the time) and Councilmember Lupe Ramos Amith were both against the change, but said they would support it if the federal government officially changed the holiday.

But wait: Councilmember Elaine Holmes took her disapproval of the move a step further, angering many in the community who supported the renaming. Some voiced their displeasure again last week when a video of the discussion that included her comments was posted on Instagram. 

  • “Back in the day, in 1492, sadly, times were different,” she remarked at the 2020 meeting. “There were challenges. So, I do not support changing out Columbus Day. … He found the new world. We’re all here because of that.”

The news: The Indio City Council will issue a proclamation at tonight’s regular meeting about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but some residents say that it doesn’t go far enough. They want the holiday to be made official and have started an online petition in hopes of generating interesting their cause.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Ortiz said Tuesday about the proclamation, “but it’s still not meeting what the community is asking for in their petition which is the official removal of Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“Getting rid of Columbus Day should just be the first step. We should be pushing to increase our knowledge of our true history, pushing for the inclusion of Native perspectives in our history classes. We have to support our Native community in their efforts to keep their traditions alive and share their traditions and knowledge with the community.”

Details: Tonight’s City Council meeting starts at 5 p.m. and there may be several public comments made about the issue. You can watch the meeting live on YouTube or participate via Zoom.

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