Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota Senate committee on Wednesday approved a Republican plan to restore a statue of Christopher Columbus to the Capitol grounds, where it was torn down by demonstrators last summer.

The Senate’s State Government Committee voted to repair and return the statue, an idea that one Democratic lawmaker called a “giant slap in the face” to Native Americans. The full Senate is likely to debate and vote on the measure in the coming weeks.

(Related: Are the Twin Cities listening to statue protests?)

Republican Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen said the statue was an initiative of the state’s Italian American community, which at the time often faced discrimination. It was first erected in 1931, the Star Tribune reported.

“There seems to be a push to remove our history here in Minnesota and our country, and quite frankly that’s the wrong direction,” said Ingebrigtsen, who sponsored the measure.

Native Americans and others have long taken exception to the now-discredited idea that Columbus discovered America. A group of protesters from the American Indian Movement toppled the statue not long after George Floyd’s death in May.

Mike Forcia, a citizen of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and longtime activist, toppled the statue in June as racial justice demonstrations erupted around the globe in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. He was charged with criminal damage to property.

Instead of throwing the book at Forcia, prosecutors opted for a restorative justice process that involved convening three traditional Peacemaking Talking Circles.

(Related: What’s old is new: The return of Peacemaking)

“Christopher Columbus was a colonizer, a mass murderer and a racist,” said Democratic Sen. Omar Fateh. “To restore this statue to its original place with taxpayer money is a giant slap in the face to our Native brothers and sisters.”

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