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Posted: October 21, 2003
WAIANAE, Hawaii - Mike L. Graham, founder of the United Native America group is calling for people to contact their federal and state representatives and ask them to draft a bill to stop using taxpayer's money to support the Columbus Day federal holiday. Graham said the change is needed because the true history of Columbus is not being taught in our nation's schools, where there is no mention of the explorer's inhuman treatment of the Indian people. More than 31,000 people have signed his online petition, which also calls for congressional and/or senate hearings to look into the racial exclusion of Native Americans in the television, movie, news media, music, and sports industries.
Graham talked with Indian Country Today about his proposal. Ultimately, he wants to stop Columbus Day and start a National Indigenous Peoples Holiday, which would include not only Native Americans from the 48 states, but the indigenous people of Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and Puerto Rico. "A lot of Congressmen have the disposition that the holiday list is crammed full as it is, and they don't want to add to it," Graham said. "We want to end Columbus Day as it is, as a federal holiday, or completely do away with the name of it, and bring about Italian Heritage Day, which would not be a tax paid holiday, like Oktoberfest and Saint Patrick's Day for the German and Irish communities." Graham would also like to start a Native American Holiday because he feels if any ethnic group deserves a holiday in America, it's the Native people.
When asked if he would like to stop Thanksgiving, Graham laughed and said "We get brow beat enough just for speaking Columbus' name; they almost faint and have a heart attack. This resolution would not even bring up the thought of changing Columbus Day to Native American Day, or declassifying Columbus Day, so they're locked in up there. They don't want to offend the Italian caucus in Washington, D.C."
Graham feels it is very important to have congressional hearings on the exclusion of Native Americans in the media. He points to how few, if any Native Americans are regularly seen on television shows (the most famous are animated characters such as "John Redcorn" on Fox's "King of the Hill," and "Apache Chief" on Cartoon Network's "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law") while other minorities, such as the homosexual community, have recently been embraced by Hollywood to the point of overexposure. While the gay community makes up a significantly larger minority of the population than Native Americans, Graham feels that the government's near extermination of Natives does not make it right for the race to be excluded from the media.
"We have an online petition right now, we set it up a little over a year and a half ago, and we have close to 32,000 signatures on it calling for the end of Columbus Day as a tax paid holiday," Graham said. "We have incorporated other issues in that too. We're trying to get tribes to send in petitions and resolutions to the House Resource Committee to set up hearings on the racial exclusion of Indians in the television, movie, and sports industry. We searched out these issues and found out that throughout the national sports industry, even though they want to use our heritage to 'honor' us, they don't send one scout to our Indian schools to draft players to come on to their team. We get the double feedback: 'We don't leave any rock unturned to find the right players for our teams.' Well, here's the deal; there are a lot of rocks on the Indian reservations. Our question is how many times have they sent a talent scout down to the Indian schools?
"Scouts have been fired because African-American communities have complained that scouts haven't come to their communities to scout for them (according to the reports in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's recent disparaging comments made about the Philadelphia Eagle's African-American quarterback Donovan McNabb). That's not being done in the American Indian community either."
Graham would like to see all states and the federal government follow the action of South Dakota, which has changed Columbus Day to Native American Day. Seventeen states have dropped Columbus Day as a state paid holiday.
Congressman Joe Baca of California has introduced House Resolution 167 IH which calls for the federal government to bring about National Native American Day. "This resolution would establish a unified national day for the country to pay tribute toward the First Americans heritage, history and contributions to the formation of America and its government." For more information, or to sign the online petition, visit unitednativeamerica.com.