Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs urges elimination of Columbus holiday

October 02, 2001|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Defying Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration, the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs voted last night in favor of a proposal to eliminate Columbus Day as a state and national holiday.

The resolution blames explorer Christopher Columbus for genocide against American Indians. It was introduced by Richard Regan, the commission member who also has led a fight to get Maryland schools to stop using Indian themes for mascots, logos and the nicknames of sports teams.

The Glendening administration had advised commission members before the meeting that the state was disavowing the resolution in advance.

"It means that it carries no weight with the state," said Edward J. McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Housing. The commission, appointed by the governor, falls under the department's jurisdiction.

Five of the commission's seven members attended the session, with four of them voting -- and unanimously turning thumbs down on Columbus Day.

The resolution by Regan, a Lumbee Cheraw Indian who lives in Montgomery County, condemns Columbus for the "torture, rape and murder" of Indians he encountered upon arriving in the New World. It further accuses Columbus of invading North and South America "with the intent to pillage and forcefully conquer and convert otherwise spiritual and prosperous human beings in order to increase his personal wealth and status."

Regan said that celebrating Columbus Day perpetuates myths and historical inaccuracies.

"He did not do what most schoolchildren in this country think he did, which was discover America," Regan said. "Columbus did not discover anything; he was lost."

Columbus Day is as offensive to Indians as a celebratory day for Jefferson Davis would be to African-Americans, Regan said.

Speaking before the commission voted last night, Regan said he had thought that getting the resolution passed would be "a long shot."

"I was told by some commission members that they think it's a good issue, but bad timing," raised amid the patriotic fervor sparked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said.

Regan received support from commission members, who backed his earlier efforts to change school team names. Regan persuaded Maryland's largest school system, Montgomery County, in late August to ban the use of American Indian themes for mascots, logos and team nicknames.

Regan said he patterned his Columbus Day resolution after one recommended by a Denver-based Indian group that has been fighting the issue since 1989.

Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1971. A holiday for employees of federal and most state governments, including Maryland's, it will be observed Monday.

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