Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Tuesday the county will no longer celebrate Columbus Day and instead will change the name of the holiday in honor of Native Americans.
Starting this year, the county will observe the October holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day — a move that many other state and local governments have made in recent years. In Maryland, Montgomery County also will be celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and Prince George’s County will begin celebrating Native American Day this year.
“As our country and community continues to reckon with our history, Howard County is taking another step today to recognize and respect the impact of Native Americans,” Ball said at an event near Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia. “Howard County is not absolved from our history with this recognition, but we hope it sets a tone and opens constructive discussions about the importance of restorative practices throughout our government and community.”
Columbus Day, which recognizes Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492, to what is now known as the West Indies, has been a federal holiday on the second Monday of October since 1934.
Starting in the 1970s, calls for jurisdictions to change the name of the holiday have been heating up in recent years. Opponents of the holiday cite the Italian explorer and other colonizers’ oppression of the native people in the Americas when they arrived in the late 15th century. Proponents of the holiday, however, have argued the holiday is a celebration of Italian heritage and that Columbus should still be lauded for sailing west.
Howard County is now among more than 140 state and local governments across the country to make the switch away from Columbus Day. The new name, Ball said, is meant to “rectify” the harm put upon Native Americans and recognize their history. According to the most recent census data, there are approximately 40,000 Native Americans in Maryland and 1,300 in Howard County.
“Indigenous and Native American history is embedded in our nomenclature and our geography — Patuxent, Potomac, Kittamaqundi. And yet there is a clear erasure of their history and their connection to our land,” Ball said. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day presents an opportunity of all ages and backgrounds to learn more about the people who were here before Columbus and colonization. Representation matters, but it must be more than a rallying cry.”
The idea to celebrate Native American history on Columbus Day was first raised in 1977 at a United Nations conference in Geneva. South Dakota started celebrating Native American Day in 1989, and a few other cities changed the name in the next 25 years. Since 2014, however, more than 100 governments have switched the name. Last year, Prince George’s County, Washington, D.C., and a handful of states made the pivot away from Columbus Day. In July, Montgomery County also changed the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
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“The National Congress of American Indians applauds Howard County for its decision to celebrate the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Kevin Allis, CEO for the National Congress of American Indians, said in a county news release. “This gesture signifies that our country is in a moment of truth and remembrance and it is time to set the record straight.”
Also during the county’s event Tuesday, Ball announced the formation of a Latin Alliance workgroup to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.
The La Alianza Latina workgroup will have 16 Howard County residents and will “address many of the concerns and struggles of the Latino and immigrant community,” according to the release.
During the event, a dozen Howard County residents stood behind Ball and the other speakers with signs to protest the county’s contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to one of the protesters. While the protest was smaller than others in the past against the county’s ICE contract, some of the protesters could be seen standing behind Ball with signs like “Defund ICE” and “Get ICE Out” throughout the 30-minute event.
This comes a few weeks after County Council Vice Chair Liz Walsh introduced a bill to stop the Howard County Department of Corrections from accepting individuals detained by federal immigration law enforcement agencies.
Howard County’s contract with ICE allows immigration detainees, excluding women and children, to be held in the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.
A similar protest, led by CASA, occurred in March with more than two dozen vehicles circling the parking lot and honking their horns outside the detention center. Then, in June, CASA and the Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice held a protest outside the George Howard Building where Ball and the County Council work. A month later, hundreds marched through Old Ellicott City to protest the contract. CASA was not involved in Tuesday’s protest at the news conference.