During the 2020 Colorado legislative session, Professor Glenn Morris and several students with the department’s Fourth World Center for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics, partnered with a number of legislators successfully to repeal the Columbus Day state holiday.
Colorado was the first state to designate Columbus Day a state holiday in 1907. Columbus Day has become quite contentious over the past few decades, particularly among indigenous, Latinx and Black communities, given Columbus’ record of African slave trading and brutality towards Native peoples in the Caribbean.
Contrary to the common trope that repealing Columbus Day was tantamount to being anti-Italian, research by the 4th World Center indicated that the designation of Columbus Day had virtually nothing to do with honoring Italian-Americans, and more to do with celebrating U.S. colonialism and expansionism in the late 19th and early 20th century.
A number of Italian-Americans, including former political science instructor Thaddeus Tecza, testified before legislative committees to repeal Columbus Day and to replace it with Frances X. Cabrini Day. Frances Cabrini (1850-1917) was an Italian American humanitarian who worked in Colorado to assist orphans, other children, and marginalized immigrant communities. Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the patron saint of immigrants.
The effort to repeal Columbus Day was sponsored by Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, (D – District 32, Commerce City). Rep. Benavidez is an alumna of our political science program (’88), who went on to graduate from CU Law School (’91) and distinguished herself in both Colorado and Denver political cabinets before being elected to the state House of Representatives.
The Columbus Day repeal effort achieved success after six previous attempts from 2007-2019.
The effort is part of a national effort to remove Columbus Day as an icon of anti-indigenous historical memory and public policy. Twenty-eight states no longer celebrate Columbus Day, and over 130 cities, including Columbus, OH, have abandoned Columbus Day.
Morris and members of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, including national AIM leader Russell Means, and the Four Winds American Indian Council, an indigenous cultural center in Denver, began the repeal of Columbus Day in its birthplace in 1989.
“For thirty years we pledged to repeal this anti-Native holiday,” said Morris. “We conducted the research, published articles, engaged in public education campaigns that included national debates, civil-disobedience with public trials, and transformed school curricula. Now, we finally changed the law.”
This year, the effort was joined by members of the Italian-American community who suggested the Cabrini replacement, in an effort to reach common ground. By creating Cabrini Day, Colorado has established the first paid state holiday in the U.S. to honor a woman.
After the bill’s passage, Rep. Benavidez told the Denver Post, “I think it’s a great day for Colorado that we can say, ‘we no longer support a racist holiday,’ and we will be able to celebrate a great humanitarian in Frances Cabrini."