Indigenous day proclamation leads to City Council infighting

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Posted: Oct 12, 2015 7:13 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A City Councilman who introduced a proclamation for Albuquerque to join other cities in observing Indigenous Peoples Day on Columbus Day faced a censure motion Monday over how the declaration was handled.

A statement signaling Councilman Dan Lewis' intent to move at an upcoming meeting to censure Council President Rey Garduno criticizes the proclamation for saying Albuquerque "recognizes the occupation of New Mexico's homelands" to build the city where Native Americans have lived since before the Spanish arrived.

Lewis took particular issue with the term "occupation" in the resolution, saying it politicized an opportunity to honor Native Americans. Garduno said he introduced the proclamation after consulting with local Native Americans in favor of the declaration, and defended the resolution's brief historical description of the area as adequate.

"Unfortunately, Councilor Garduno did not put before the Council a Proclamation celebrating Native peoples and culture," Lewis said. "Instead, he chose to put before us a Proclamation loaded with inflammatory terms such as 'occupation' and that read as a not-so-subtle indictment of the actions of our Founding Fathers and the Spaniards that came to this land five hundred years ago."

Lewis will motion for the censure at a meeting next Monday. He filed a statement with the city outlining his reasons Friday, and the Albuquerque Journal reported on it Monday.

Garduno introduced and read the proclamation at a City Council meeting on Wednesday, making Albuquerque one of nearly a dozen municipalities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day and revive a movement behind the counter holiday to Columbus Day. Six City Council members signed the proclamation, and three didn't, including Lewis. He did not feel comfortable with its "inflammatory" language, he said.

The document states that the idea of Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 during a United Nations conference attended by a delegation of Native nations, and it encouraged businesses and organizations to use the day to celebrate Native cultures. It also states that the Albuquerque City Council seeks to establish an "accurate historical record of the 'discovery' of the United States."

Native Americans activists frequently speak out against the notion that Italian explorer Christopher Columbus discovered America, since indigenous people lived throughout the Western Hemisphere before he set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. For decades, many have coordinated protests against the holiday that honors him.

Columbus Day supporters say the October holiday celebrates centuries of cultural exchange between America and Europe, commemorates an iconic explorer and honors Italian-Americans.

Lewis said he celebrates and recognizes the societal contributions of Native Americans, and may have signed a proclamation if he was provided opportunity to suggest changes. He said the proclamation was put before him five minutes before last week's Council meeting, leaving him no time to weigh in.

"If I sign my name to it, it's saying this is how I say it, and I didn't feel comfortable with it," Lewis said.

He also questioned why Garduno introduced a proclamation, which is largely symbolic and ceremonial, instead of a resolution or other legislation that would have longer-lasting impact while providing councilors opportunity to discuss the matter more at meetings.

Garduno said councilors don't typically weigh in at length before deciding whether to sign proclamations. He also said Indigenous Peoples Day represents a unifying movement.