Nebraska Marks First Statewide Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Frank Bear Killer of the Oglala Lakota Tribe addresses participants during a rally outside the State Capitol to mark Lincoln’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. The Lincoln City Council designated to the second Monday of October, normally observed as Columbus Day, as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in 2016. In 2020, the Nebraska Legislature designated the state holiday to be both observances. Monday is the first statewide observance of the legal holiday. (AP)
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Nebraska courts are closed the second Monday in October, but the reason is a little different this year – and, for once, that’s not another reference to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nebraska Legislature voted last session to designate the second Monday in October as both Columbus Day – the legal holiday it has been in Nebraska since 1911 – and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a new holiday advanced as an alternative to honoring an explorer who committed atrocities against Native Americans.

This is Nebraska’s first year observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and it is joining a growing list of states that have dual observances with Columbus Day or exclusively recognizing Monday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Legislative Bill 848 declares that, “The second Monday in October of each year shall be Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day and shall be set apart to recognize the historic, cultural, and contemporary significance of the people indigenous to the lands that are now known as the Americas, including Nebraska, and the many contributions of such people.” The measure ultimately passed on a 35-10 vote.

Among those opposing the bill were Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who argued the state already marks American Indian Day. (According to state statute, that’s the fourth Monday in September, and it’s a day for schools, clubs and religious organizations “to promote greater understanding and brotherhood between American Indians and the non-Indian people of the State of Nebraska.”)

Groene said in legislative debate that it was “belittling” to Native Americans to have a shared holiday, according to the Nebraska Unicameral information Office’s report about the debate.

“Columbus Day is Columbus Day,” Groene said. “You can like the man or not like the man but what he did was equivalent to landing on the moon.”

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks introduced the bill to encourage reflection “on the contributions of our first people,” according to Unicameral Update.

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha said he appreciated the compromise to avoid abandoning Columbus Day, which was opposed by several Italian Americans from his district in South Omaha.

“People really did identify with Columbus Day as Italian Americans. They felt a personal connection,” Vargas said in debate.

The new law also requires the display of flags of Nebraska’s four federally recognized Native American tribes – the Omaha, Ponca, Santee Sioux and Winnebago – in the ceremonial Warner Chamber of the State Capitol.

A blog post from History Nebraska, the state’s historical agency, notes that Columbus Day was not immediately adopted but was rejected by legislators two years before it became a state holiday.

“Although banks and public offices were to be closed in Omaha, ‘the Board of Education failed to discover any reason why it should quit business because Columbus went out on a cruise 408 years ago and sighted land,’ and the public schools remained open,” according to History Nebraska.

Columbus Day – originally observed on Oct. 12 to commemorate Columbus’ landing in the New World in 1492 – became a national holiday by presidential proclamation in 1937. It was later moved to the second Monday in October in 1971 when it was designated a legal federal holiday.

Only 21 states, as well as American Samoa and Puerto Rico, treat Columbus Day as a paid holiday, according to the Pew Research Center. South Dakota has celebrated Native Americans’ Day as an official state holiday since 1990, and more than a dozen states have adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an alternative.


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