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Indigenous Peoples Day

Lofanitani Aisea, a former Chiloquin High School student, lead petition efforts to have Columbus Day declared as Indigenous Peoples Day in Klamath County.

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown has declared Oct. 9 Indigenous People’s Day in response to efforts by the Klamath Tribes Youth Council to seek an alternative to Columbus Day.

A news release from the tribes Thursday said Brown signed a proclamation Sept. 21 to recognize “the many contributions made to our communities through indigenous peoples.”

The release said, for many tribal people, Christopher Columbus traveling to North America represented “a cycle of colonialism that still has ramifications today.”

“Many communities are honoring their Indigenous People by renaming the observed Columbus Day for the Native population,” said the release.

Columbus’ tainted past

Efforts from similar groups have been underway in recent years to cease celebration of Columbus Day in favor of recognizing Native American groups. Critics of Columbus argue he enslaved and murdered many native peoples as he conquered and settled the Caribbean and, for these reasons and others, should not be celebrated.

Columbus is celebrated in America as the first European to discover the New World in 1492, though this and other of his accomplishments are disputed by historians.

Columbus’s birthday, Oct. 12, has been celebrated since the 1800s and in 1937 Columbus Day was first recognized by the federal government.

Persevering efforts

Attempts by young people from the Klamath Tribes to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day included a proposal last year before Klamath County Commissioners. At the time, officials said they did not want to overturn the long-observed holiday, but were still interested in further discussing the concerns of students.

Leading efforts at the time was then-Chiloquin High School student Lofanitani Aisea, who said Thursday, Brown’s decision was “definitely overdue.”

“When you’re going through a struggle and then something works out it’s awesome,” she said. “I’m really proud of (the council). I’m really proud they could do that.”

Aisea left Klamath County earlier this year to enroll at the University of Oregon and said she plans to remain politically active while in college. She said she hopes the movement for Indigenous People’s Day continues in Oregon and elsewhere.

“I want us to keep moving forward,” she said.