HELENA, Mont.– A bill that would have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Montana was defeated by a state Senate panel whose chair said she hoped to see the proposal return with a solution more lawmakers could support.
The bill was defeated 5-3 Monday, and tabled, by the Senate Administration Committee.
Two amendments had been proposed Monday for the bill. One would have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The other would have kept Columbus Day while still adding Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a state holiday.
The second proposal did not have a fiscal note estimating its cost, prompting committee chair, Rep. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse, to say she could not vote for it.
“I can’t support another state holiday,” she said. “We are trying to scramble for money for in-home health care for people.”
Brown said she would like to see another proposal submitted in a future session.
“I see, as a real solution, we could have a celebration — I really do,” she said. “But when it starts costing everybody a bunch of money, I have to step back and say, ‘I have responsibilities to the taxpayers too.'”
The bill passed the House, 62-35, in February. Many Native American members of the House spoke out in favor of the bill.
One Native American lawmaker said on the House floor that Columbus Day celebrates a man who killed and tortured Native American people and compared it to having a holiday that would celebrate Nazi Germany.
Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, criticized Christopher Columbus, the explorer credited with discovering America.
Bennett said that to have a celebration in Montana for a “colonizer who came into the Americas-ish and brutally mutilated Native populations just doesn’t match up with the culture we have here in the state.”
Montana has a lot to celebrate “and a guy who has no connection with the state of Montana … has got to go,” Bennett said, noting that a state holiday would have a tremendous fiscal note.
Sen. Douglas Kary, R-Billings, said admiringly that Columbus was “a bad dude. He was sent out to a place where he was probably not expected to come back, but he did.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula, said Tuesday that he would continue efforts to get the proposal passed.
“It’s disappointing that, once again, the opportunity to celebrate the rich cultures of all Montanans has been pushed to the sidelines,” Morigeau said.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day would have let Montanans honor shared successes and challenges “rather than a man who has a legacy of committing atrocities against innocent people,” he said.
“We’re all equal under the Big Sky, and we’re going to keep telling our story — and the horrific true story of Columbus — until this gets done,” Morigeau said in a text.
Columbus Day is reportedly not observed in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, South Dakota and Vermont, where it has been replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.