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Utah would celebrate the state's original inhabitants, instead of the nation's European colonists, under a bill that received committee approval on Wednesday.

Sponsored by Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. James Dabakis, the bill would establish the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in lieu of the federal Christopher Columbus holiday.

"We believe that the Indigenous Peoples Day would shift the focus to people that are actually here in the State of Utah and have been here for thousands of years," Dabakis said.

Orville Cayaditto, president of the University of Utah's Inter-Tribal Student Association, said the observance of Columbus Day perpetuates harmful myths about the European discovery of the American continents.

He said the holiday places a nonhuman status on indigenous Americans by ignoring the colonization, enslavement and forced removal of the nation's original inhabitants by transatlantic explorers.

"Christopher Columbus did not discover North America," Cayaditto said. "How could anyone discover a place which tens of millions of people already know about?"

Indigenous Peoples Day is currently recognized in several U.S. cities and states. Shawn Jimerson, director of the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake, said Utah should be among the movement's leaders since the state's name is derived from the Ute Tribe.

"The fact that our state itself was named for its original inhabitants should not be lost on anyone in this room," he told lawmakers.

But some Utahns argue that there is room on the calendar to honor both Christopher Columbus and America's indigenous people.

November is traditionally Native American Heritage Month, and Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said there is ample opportunity during that month and others to promote the history of Utah's tribal communities.

"Christopher Columbus is a hero to a lot of people," she said. "I think we have a right to feel that way about Christopher Columbus."

And Christian Horlacker, a 16-year-old homeschool student, credited the voyage of Columbus with the spread of Christianity and democracy in the Western world.

"I pledge allegiance to this country and this country has pledged allegiance to God," he said. "That is why Christopher Columbus is so important to our rich heritage."

The committee voted 3-1 in favor of the bill, which will now advance to the full Senate for consideration.

Prior to his opposing vote, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-Ogden, said he does not consider himself a prejudiced person and that Utah's Native American community should be justifiably proud of its heritage.

"I also feel that the way to lift yourselves up is not by tearing others down," he said. "And for that reason I will be opposing this bill."

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