On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced a proclamation from the steps of City Hall, designating October 12, 2017 as "Indigenous People’s Day."
“Whereas, indigenous people are the earliest known inhabitants that played a critical role in shaping the long, rich history of San Antonio,” said Nirenberg, reading from the proclamation. “Whereas, while indigenous people have endured past injustices, they continue to emphasize a respect for land, natural resources and cooperation among neighbors.”
The crowd of about two dozen people awaiting the proclamation, many of whom identified as indigenous, seemed generally delighted by the mayor's announcement. But according to a few audience members, the resolution may have missed the mark.
Local indigenous rights leaders have asked San Antonio officials to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day for at least a decade.
Neither Nirenberg nor city council members in attendance noted that Oct. 12 was also the day Christopher Columbus arrived in America. In fact, none of them mentioned Columbus or Columbus Day at all.
“I think it’s a time for us to be proud and excited, and a little bit relieved that the city’s taking the time to acknowledge indigenous people,” said Frankie Orona, the executive director of San Antonio’s Society of Native Nations. “But I also feel that having the Indigenous People’s Day today, instead of Columbus Day, is kind of a way of getting away from the Columbus issue. So I have mixed feelings about that. I’d rather see the Indigenous People’s Day on Columbus Day.”
After Nirenberg read the proclamation, several indigenous elders and council members took their turns on the podium.
“It’s very emotional that it took us so many years — generations — and on our own land, that we have to be asking for proclamations,” Gloria Camarillo Vasquez, an indigenous elder said. “But nevertheless, here we are.”
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval shared an anecdote about how she remembered her 7th grade Texas history class, which fell short on the history of Native Americans in the state. The crowd cheered loudly when Councilman Roberto Treviño said this was the first time the mayor and city council had recognized this day. (Technically, October 12, 2015 was also proclaimed Indigenous Peoples Day in Bexar County. The holiday is not an automatically recurring one, apparently.)
“We understand there’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re ready to do that work,” Treviño said.
Councilman Cruz Shaw, who has indigenous relatives on his mother’s side of the family, called the proclamation a “huge step not only for San Antonio, but for this country in general.”
But San Antonio is hardly paving the way here — more than 50 cities, counties, universities and states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day over the last three decades, acknowledging the mass genocide of Native Americans following Columbus’ arrival.
“The whole point is to get rid of Columbus Day, not to give you just another day,” said Amador Osio, a member of the Apache del Rio Intertribal Organization. “The point is to get rid of [Columbus Day] because he did a lot of damage to our people.”