Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

Kansas needs to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day to acknowledge how the understanding of Christopher Columbus' legacy has changed over the years, according to the state’s three Indigenous state legislators.

Reps. Christina Haswood, Diné, Stephanie Byers, Chickasaw, and Ponka-We Victors, Tohono O'odham and Ponca are pushing for Kansas to join a number of states and cities across the country that observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day.

Haswood and Byers testified Tuesday before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, while Victors submitted written testimony on the topic.

Kansas House candidate Stephanie Byers (Photo courtesy of Byers for Kansas)

Haswood, who grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and went to Haskell Indian Nations University, said her testimony focused on how the false history of Columbus Day impacted her growing up. She also noted the city of Lawrence, which is in her district, has recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day in recent years.

“We were just asking our colleagues at the state level to make that change as well to rightfully correct that history and to help heal that negative narrative that we've all grown up with,” she said.

Haswood said she will continue to advocate for the change with her district's Native community.

Christina Haswood, Navajo, beat out two other Democrats and faces no Republican candidate to represent District 10 in Kansas' House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy of Haswood campaign)

This is not the first time such a bill has been introduced in the Kansas Legislature.

Rep. Dennis "Boog" Highberger, one of the measure’s sponsors, said he has proposed the legislation at least three times. The bill got its first committee hearing in 2019, but Chair John Barker, an Abilene Republican, didn't bring it to a vote.

Unfortunately again this time around, Highberger said he wouldn't be surprised if the panel's Republican chairman failed to hold a vote on the bill.

After the meeting Tuesday, Barker told reporters he doesn't know whether he will hold a committee vote on the bill this year. Without one, the bill would stall.

"It's a matter of selecting things that are priorities," Barker said.

Native advocates have long pressed states to change to Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Columbus helped launched centuries of genocide against Indigenous populations in the Americas.

Victors is serving her sixth term in Kansas’ Legislature, while Byers and Haswood were elected in November.

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Byers hoped that the addition of two Native lawmakers would have more of an impact on the legislation. But she noted much of the current session has been picking up business that was delayed due to COVID-19.

“We feel fortunate to at least have a committee hearing,” she said.

The momentum behind recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day has gained a lot of momentum in recent years. Byers added that there seems to be a greater understanding that hundreds of “distinct nations that make up what we call “Native America” pre-date European conquest.”

“Native Americans have long been viewed through lenses of cultural stereotypes,” Byers said. “Acknowledging that they were here first, that Columbus couldn’t have discovered what was already here, is a step towards bringing truth toward our common history.”

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.