BALTIMORE — There’s a holiday coming up Monday, but it’s unclear how it will be officially recognized in Baltimore.
The City Council pushed through a bill earlier this week to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a move members called an important step in recognizing Native American history and reckoning with the famous explorer’s controversial legacy.
But whether the shift is made in time for this year’s holiday lies in the hands of Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young. He has three choices: sign the bill (putting it into effect immediately), allow it to eventually become law without his signature weeks later, or veto the bill.
In a brief interview Friday, Young did not commit to any of those options, leaving the holiday’s name for 2020 in doubt. His signature appears unlikely.
“I haven’t thought about any of that stuff,” Young said.
The mayor said he’s attended several funerals in recent days, and hasn’t had a chance to review the two-page bill or the others the council passed this week. Shortly before speaking with The Baltimore Sun, Young was at a news conference to announce the arrests of two people in connection with the killing of an on-duty bus driver. The mayor said Marcus Parks, an MTA veteran, was a friend.
“I would expect the council to be more concerned about violence and murders in the city of Baltimore,” Young said. “The state already has an indigenous day, so I don’t know what the rush is.”
It appears Young was referencing American Indian Heritage Day, which Maryland observes in November. The state has not moved away from Columbus Day, as a growing number of cities and states have done in recent years. A bill that would have made the change statewide never got out of committee during this year’s General Assembly session, which was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.
City Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee to replace Young, unsuccessfully championed the idea four years ago. Young co-sponsored the 2016 legislation.
Scott said the council finally getting this done in 2020 allows them to close the door on this conversation and focus on bigger issues — which he said they are doing already.
“I always focus on crime and violence,” Scott said. “I can have that focus and deal with this issue, which should have been resolved in 2016.”
Democratic Councilman John T. Bullock, who sponsored this year’s legislation, said it would be disappointing if Young didn’t take action by Monday.
“We’re hopeful that he will” sign the bill, he said.
Members of Indigenous Strong have pushed for years for the shift from Columbus Day, saying it’s painful for Baltimore to celebrate a man whom many Native Americans view as a murderer. The 15th-century Italian explorer was long credited in U.S. classrooms as a hero who discovered the Americas, rather than as a colonizer who violently enslaved native people.
There’s a rally planned for Monday outside City Hall to celebrate the passage of the bill. Indigenous Strong plans to record people sharing stories about what Indigenous Peoples’ Day means to them.
“Be a part of this historical moment,” the group urged in a Facebook post promoting the event.
A city website listing official holidays still dubs the second Monday of October as Columbus Day, although a city Department of Public Works announcement Thursday about its locations being closed for the upcoming date refers to “the Monday, October 12 holidays.”
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