Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law on Thursday that merges Native American Day and Columbus Day into one holiday.
Stitt, the only current governor in the U.S. enrolled as a member of a Native American tribe, came up with the compromise to give his state residents an opportunity to celebrate both the 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus and the state’s indigenous people.
The bill was endorsed by Native American groups and the governor denied that the merger reduced the significance of any of the holidays.
“I think moving it to Columbus Day, I don’t see any downside to it at all,” Stitt said. “It just gives us one opportunity to celebrate Columbus, but also the indigenous people here in America.”
“I think moving it to Columbus Day, I don’t see any downside to it at all. It just gives us one opportunity to celebrate Columbus, but also the indigenous people here in America.”
The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which represents over 750,000 tribal citizens, gave its blessing for the measure and urged Stitt to sign the bill.
Nearly 40 tribes are native to Oklahoma, with over 7 percent of the population identifying as Native American, among the highest percentage in the U.S.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby praised Stitt’s signing of the bill, saying in a statement that the move “offers another opportunity to recognize Native Americans as an essential element in the fabric of Oklahoma history, heritage and society.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, meanwhile, said the day will be an opportunity “for people across the state to celebrate and honor the significant contributions of Native tribes as well as the beautiful culture of our Native people.”
Stitt’s signed bill differs from measures in other states like New Mexico, where governments are trying to ditch the Columbus Day altogether and replace it with Indigenous Peoples' Day, a change some residents oppose, prompting the clash between communities.
Oklahoma’s ex-Republican Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a similar bill last year, claiming that a singular day for two holidays “could be viewed as an intentional attempt to diminish” support for Native American Heritage Month in November.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.