After heated debate, Houston City Council recognizes Indigenous Peoples Day

Houston City Council voted Sept. 30 to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. (Courtesy Visit Houston)
Houston City Council voted Sept. 30 to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

Houston City Council voted Sept. 30 to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

Houston City Council members sparred at their Sept. 30 meeting over whether to recognize the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Several indigenous activists spoke during the public comment session the day before council’s vote.

“This will allow citizens to finally recognize our rich heritage and represent a huge step of healing and growth between people who are descendants of Native American ancestry,” said Bianca Rivera, a Houston resident and Native American activist.

Council members voted 14-2 to support the measure, which does not make the day a city holiday but recognizes it on the same day as the federally recognized Columbus Day. The move is modeled after several other cities’ efforts across the United States, council agenda states.

Native American groups have been advocating for this recognition for years, Council Member Robert Gallegos said. He added that he was glad to see the measure placed on the agenda after advocating for it during his seven years in office.


Council Members Mike Knox and Greg Travis opposed the effort, stating that the day should not be shared between indigenous people and Christoper Columbus.

“An alternative [to Columbus Day] is a binary choice,” Knox said. “I don’t see the purpose of that or to make a jab at what is being taught about Columbus in our schools.”

Travis opposed the measure, stating that the holiday’s true purpose is to honor Italian Americans, rather than Christopher Columbus himself. He further referenced President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision to name Columbus Day a national holiday in 1934, which he did at the request of Italian American Catholic fraternal group the Knights of Columbus, according to the United States Library of Congress.

Travis's and Knox’s comments were met with strong pushback from the remaining council members, with some stating that honoring Christopher Columbus is offensive due to his destruction of Native American communities.

“I’ve never in my life heard it as 'Italian American Day,'” Council Member Jerry Davis said. “It's been all about Christopher Columbus founding America, which is a lie. ... My vote—yes, it is to replace, take away, retract—any synonym you choose. ... I am fired-up.”
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.