Reno Celebrates Its First Indigenous Peoples' Day

Oct 14, 2019

Reno is celebrating its first Indigenous Peoples' Day today, after the City Council unanimously voted to drop Columbus Day in favor of a holiday that celebrates Native American peoples, rather than honor a figure that for many represents a violent history of colonization in North America. 

Ray Bacasegua Valdez represents the activist group American Indian Movement of Northern Nevada or AIM, which brought the idea to the council. Growing up and being taught a rosier version of Christopher Columbus in school, he says he just had to accept it at the time. 

"As Natives, we know that there was some deceiving, and the truth wasn't being told. But I was a teenager, so, you know, it was tough," Bacasegua said. "What could I do at that time?"

In 2016, AIM was holding a prayer demonstration below the Reno Arch on Columbus Day, when an 18-year-old man approached them and then ran some of them over in his car, injuring one woman. The man pled guilty to provoking an assault and was sentenced to 14 weeks of anger management and 120 hours of community service.

Bacasegua said the inspiration for this push through the city came in the aftermath of that incident.

"And that's, I think, in its own self and its own right, healing," Bacasegua said. "For us to come forward as a group, organize, come peacefully, come with compassion, and put it on the table."

Columbus Day itself is often celebrated within the Italian American community as a symbol of their heritage, as Columbus himself was Italian.

Bacasegua said it isn't to disrespect the Italian community as a whole but to recognize the destruction that one individual man had on another population.

Reno City Councilmember Devon Reese says he supports the replacement of Columbus Day, and still wants to be respectful of the Italian community.

"[B]ecause October is Italian American heritage month, so there's this whole month to celebrate Italian Americans."

Indigenous Peoples Day first began as a counter-movement to Columbus Day in the early 1990s in Berkeley, California. In 2014, the wider adoption of the holiday began in many American cities.