Last weekend I wrote about how Joe Biden became the first president to issue a proclamation for Indigenous Peoples' Day for the second Monday of October. Friday's proclamation not only celebrated indigenous peoples, but condemned the legacy of colonization and America for "never fully liv[ing] up to" what the president had called "a promise of equality and opportunity for all people." He likewise condemned Christopher Columbus in the Columbus Day proclamation which came that same day. It's no surprise, then, that Vice President Kamala Harris would also denounce such a legacy not long after Columbus Day.
Harris' remarks came on Tuesday for the National Congress of American Indians. Although she mentioned the celebration of Columbus Day as a federal holiday, she did not address it by name.
"Since 1934, every October, the United States has recognized the voyage of the European explorers, who first landed on the shores of the Americas. But that is not the whole story. That has never been the whole story," she said early in her remarks. "Those explorers ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations, perpetrating violence, stealing land, and spreading disease. We must not shy away from this shameful past, and we must shed light on it and do everything we can to address the impact of the past on native communities today," she went on to say.
The vice president also took the opportunity to sell various agenda items the Biden administration supports. This first mention had to do with voting, as the president has tasked Harris with promoting such legislation. "Today we also know, that Native American voters are being systematically denied access to the ballot box, which is why we must pass The Freedom to Vote Act, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act," she said.
She also went into great detail to sell the infrastructure bill:
At this very minute, our administration is working with Democrats and Republicans and Independents in Congress to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and we are confident that we will get it done. This bill represents the largest infrastructure investment our nation has made since before World War II and presents, right now, an important opportunity to strengthen Indian country. It would set aside funding for tribal bridge projects and the Tribal Transportation Program. It would provide native communities with funding to build out brand new water infrastructure, and connect native communities with high speed internet. All while creating good union jobs, millions of good union jobs. And as native communities have led for generations upon generation on protecting our environment, I should also mention that this bill would also put millions of dollars toward making sure our communities are resilient in the face of climate change.
And the Build Back Better agenda:
At the same time, our administration is working to pass a budget that reflects the values of our nation, that invests in those communities that have long gone overlooked. Our Build Back Better, will have a significant impact on Indian country. As Native American families struggled to find affordable care in their area, our agenda would lower childcare and elder care costs. Our agenda would lower healthcare costs and housing costs, and it would cut taxes for families with children by extending the Child Tax Credit for years to come. Together, our American Rescue Plan and our Build Back Better agenda will have provided more than $31 billion for Native communities. Our Infrastructure and Jobs Act and our Build Back Better agenda represent the largest investment in Indian country in our history, more than a point of pride. This is a sign of our administration’s respect for our nation to nation relationship.
When asked last Friday if it was Biden's "wish" that Columbus Day no longer be a federal holiday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "I don’t have any prediction of that at this point in time."
In February 2019, however, Harris, who was a senator and running for president, responded with "sign me up" when asked if she would support replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day.
On Monday, Harris' Twitter accounts noticeably commemorated Indingeous Peoples' Day, while making no mention of Columbus Day.
On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor Tribal Nations and the invaluable contributions of Indigenous peoples. Their wisdom, ingenuity, and leadership in all walks of life has made our country stronger and more prosperous. https://t.co/k2plUzE7bB— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) October 11, 2021
Columbus Day--in fact the whole month of October-- is also seen as a time to celebrate Italian-Americans, as even President Biden acknowledged in his proclamation for Columbus Day.
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