A group of demonstrators were removed from the Utah State Senate gallery on Monday while protesting the Senate’s decision to kill a proposal to establish an Indigenous People’s Day after some controversial remarks regarding indigenous history.
The Utah State Senate voted 15-10 to kill SB170, a proposal that would have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, senators referred to the bill as a “slap in the face to Italian-Americans,” referring to Columbus’ Italian ancestry, and that Senator Allen Christensen, a Republican of North Ogden, said Columbus was “a great American hero.”
The most disputed remarks, however, came from Republican Senator Todd Weiler of Woods Cross.
“The native population gave the early explorers syphilis, which they brought back to Europe,” Weiler said. “Blaming Columbus for the extermination of the native population is as fair as blaming the native population for people who die using tobacco and cocaine, which the natives introduced to the Europeans.”
The protestors were ordered to leave the Senate gallery after allegedly yelling, “Todd Weiler, we want to talk to you! You are racist. You are on stolen land.”
“All we indigenous people ask is for a day, so we can be who we are, so we can talk about us, so people know that we are here,” one protestor told the Salt Lake Tribune.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Jim Dabakis, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, and follows in the footsteps of other states such as South Dakota.
“Before Father Escalante got here, before the [Latter-day Saints] pioneers arrived, there weren’t just people, there was a thriving, incredible, amazing civilization that was here and we do not pay tribute to that situation,” he said.