Tennessee legislative committee hears bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

NASHVILLE—On Feb. 28, a hearing was held on a bill before the Public Services Committee of the Tennessee state legislature for the adoption of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus Day, which is currently recognized by the state. The committee hearing was held at the Cordell Hull State Office Building in downtown Nashville.

The bill is sponsored by newly-elected State Rep. Justin Jones of District 52, which covers parts of Nashville. Accompanying the bill was support testimony from Indigenous representatives Melba Checote-Eads (Muskogee Creek Nation) of Woodbury, Tenn., Dante Reyna, Tzotzil Maya/Tarahumara, the Indigenous Scholars Organization of Vanderbilt University, and this writer.

After Jones opened the hearing with his presentation and the reading of the support statements, questions came from members of the committee. Many were addressed to Jones and concerned issues such as why Columbus Day should be replaced; why Indigenous Peoples Day could not be held on another date rather than the current Columbus Day; and whether the state should continue recognizing Columbus Day given it is already a federally-recognized holiday.

There was also outright opposition from one very hostile committee member who stated that he did not share a “negative opinion of Columbus.” This same committee member indicated he would vote in opposition to Jones’ bill.

The presentations made by Jones and supporters at the hearing were not expressions of opinion, but rather of historically-supported and documented facts of the horrendous crimes of Columbus against Indigenous people, including the wholesale raping and killing of Indigenous people of the Caribbean, as well as the sex trafficking of Indigenous girls as young as 9 years old (this from his own handwritten diaries).

It was also pointed out that Columbus was a promoter of pedophilia and a mass murderer. He was responsible for the start of the greatest genocide known in world history. He fed alive Indigenous men, women, and children, including infants, to his war dogs. This is from written accounts of the Spanish soldiers and priests who accompanied Columbus.

District 52 State Rep. Justin Jones is the lead sponsor of the bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Tennessee. | Photo via the Jones Campaign 2022

The objections to the replacement of Columbus Day were handily responded to by Jones as if he were wielding a foil in a fencing match. The committee, rather than vote down the bill, decided to postpone the matter pending it being sent to a “summer study” for further recommendation. The Indigenous representatives present saw this as a clear delaying tactic.

“There is a disconnect between the facts and the opinions about Columbus, between history and opinion,” said Jones. He continued, “The introduction of the bill was a step forward for the state, toward recognizing the history of our Indigenous communities in Tennessee.”

Jones further opined that supporters of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day bill must make sure the committee actually follows through with the “summer study,” and they will have to keep the pressure on afterward.

Racist incident

Later, details emerged of an Indigenous community member being harassed when entering the state government building for the hearing.

Larry Davis, who lives in a small town south of Nashville, was detained for several minutes for no credible reason by Tennessee State Troopers guarding the building.

After going through the metal detector, he was asked where he was going in the building, which was routine practice. Davis responded appropriately and was then detained while the troopers made telephone calls to supposedly verify the authenticity of his response.

This was unheard of, as the committee room was open to the public. While Davis was detained, his phone was taken from him and he was made to wait while everyone else, the non-Indigenous, was allowed to enter the hallway of the building. Davis, by contrast, was treated disrespectfully and with racist effrontery.

Upon finding out about the incident, the Indigenous community was outraged and immediately contacted State Rep. Jones to determine what could be done to address this racist treatment. Complaints are now being filed to get to the bottom of the alleged harassment.

In the meantime, plans are being made for the adoption of Indigenous Peoples’ Day by other major cities in the state. Nashville already made the move in 2017, prompted by a movement in which Jones, then a student at Fisk University, also played a key role.


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.