- By Philip Jankowski American-Statesman Staff
Columbus Day is no more in the corridors of City Hall.
The Austin City Council on Thursday voted to replace the holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday that celebrates Native Americans.
Columbus Day is a federal holiday, so it has not been eradicated, but interim City Manager Elaine Hart did say city calendars will no longer refer to the holiday named for Christopher Columbus.
The vote was 9-1-1, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair against and Council Member Alison Alter abstaining.
“We have a saying that Columbus didn’t discover America, he was lost,” Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria said.
Austin follows other U.S. cities — including Seattle; Denver; Albuquerque, N.M.; and, most recently, Los Angeles — in renaming the holiday observed on the second Monday of October.
The Austin school district gives students the day off on Columbus Day. However, staff members are required to go to work, and the district’s official calendar does not list the holiday by name. Other holidays such as Labor Day and Memorial Day are referred to by name, according to the district’s 2017-18 school year calendar.
The council also voted Thursday to condemn the display of monuments and memorials to the Confederacy. That resolution directs the city staff to identify all Confederate monuments in Austin and research how they might be removed. It was approved without discussion as part of the council’s consent agenda. Troxclair also voted against that item.
An effort spearheaded by Council Member Ann Kitchen is already underway to rename Robert E. Lee Road, a street alongside Zilker Park honoring the Confederate general. Kitchen has proposed naming the road after Azie Taylor Morton, the only African-American ever to be U.S. treasurer.
The University of Texas removed statues of Confederate figures from the campus’ Main Mall in August. The university removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the mall in 2015.
The Capitol grounds have several monuments to and statues of Confederate figures and soldiers, and some lawmakers have called for removing a plaque incorrectly describing the causes of the Civil War. Decisions on those monuments rest with the state.
Before the Columbus Day vote, Troxclair attempted to change the language of the resolution to celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day. However, her amendment, which Alter supported, failed.
Council Member Greg Casar then offered an amendment that the city would celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. It was approved.
“I think Austin is following suit with the rest of the country,” activist Tane Ward from the organization Equilibrio Norte said after the vote. “This is a very popular and easy thing to do, changing the names of things. However, it doesn’t change the material conditions of inequality that exist in this state.”