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News / Politics

State bill would name day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day

The Columbian
Published: February 5, 2013, 4:00pm

OLYMPIA — The day after Thanksgiving would no longer be Black Friday or leftover turkey day in Washington state under a proposal approved unanimously Tuesday by a House committee. Instead, it would be a legal holiday dubbed Native American Heritage Day.

The day after Thanksgiving is already one of Washington state’s 10 legal holidays, but it’s the only one without a name. Designating it as Native American Heritage Day would recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the original residents of the nation, John Sirios, chairman of the tribal council for the Colville Confederated Tribes, said recently.

It won’t cost the state anything, said Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, chairman of the House Community Development and Tribal Affairs Committee and one of only two Native Americans in the Legislature.

Over the years, various attempts to honor Native Americans on the calendar have had limited success. Some communities renamed Columbus Day to honor American Indians, but that was hit or miss. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a congressional resolution naming the day after Thanksgiving that year Native American Heritage Day. In 2010, President Barack Obama declared November as Native American Heritage Month and the day after Thanksgiving that year as Native American Heritage Day.

Linking the day to Thanksgiving can be controversial in some parts of Indian Country, McCoy said, because some tribes don’t celebrate that day as a high point in Native American history the way European Americans do.

Miguel Perez-Gibson, a lobbyist for the Colville tribes, recalled a saying of Will Rogers, a member of the Cherokee Nation, that his ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, “they met the boat.”

Commemorating the day would give Washington residents “something else besides watching football and shopping,” said Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline.

McCoy proposed establishing the holiday the last two years, and it sailed through the House both times, only to get bogged down and die in the Senate during budget negotiations. He hopes the third time is the charm.

“All I can do is hope the Senate can move some of these bills that don’t cost anything,” he said.