Instead, Hawaii would establish a new holiday honoring native peoples on the second Monday of each October.

A bill to create a new state holiday called Indigenous Peoples Day was unanimously approved by a key Senate committee Tuesday, but state and county executives warned the holiday would be expensive in terms of lost public worker productivity.

Senate Bill 732, which was introduced by Senate Democratic Majority Leader Dru Kanuha, would also abolish the existing general election day holiday that falls in early November every other year.

Supporters of the change say it’s no longer necessary to give the day off to encourage voter participation now that Hawaii has shifted to all-mail voter registration and elections. The net effect would be to create one additional state holiday every two years.

The new holiday would be held on the second Monday of each October.

Senate floor session.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee tentatively approved a bill to create a new state holiday called Indigenous Peoples Day, which would be celebrated on the second Monday of each October. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

The state Department of Budget and Finance calculates that an extra paid state holiday would cost about $17 million annually in “lost productivity,” while the Honolulu Department of Human Resources estimates a new holiday would cost the city about $2 million per year.

According to the bill, the movement to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the U.S. began as a protest of Columbus Day, which in many states is still observed to commemorate the anniversary of Columbus’ landfall in the Western Hemisphere.

Hawaii is one of 17 states that does not celebrate Columbus Day. This state observes Discoverers’ Day on the second Monday in October to honor the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian islands, but Discoverers’ Day is not a designated, official state holiday.

Kanuha said the proposal to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an official holiday grew out of a request from the students at Papa Pono Kīwila at the Volcano School of Arts and Sciences, who wanted to know why Hawaii had not embraced the Indigenous Peoples’ Day idea.

The students wanted to move the idea forward, and Kanuha decided to bring it up at the Legislature to see how it will play out. A similar bill was introduced about a decade ago, but never got a hearing in the state House or Senate, he said.

“By working with these students, we wanted to bring awareness to the state’s obligation to protect all rights customarily and traditionally exercised by descendants of Native Hawaiians as well as other indigenous cultures throughout the world,” he said.

It is also intended to raise awareness of the history of indigenous peoples. According to the bill, “generations of federal and state policies sought to bring shame to, assimilate, and displace indigenous peoples and eradicate native cultures.”

“In Hawaii, this fact, coupled with the introduction of new infectious diseases brought by western missionaries, resulted in an eighty-four per cent decline in the Native Hawaiian population in the first sixty years since Captain James Cook’s arrival in the islands in 1778,” according to the measure.

Kenneth Conklin, an outspoken author and retired professor, objected to that language in written testimony opposing the bill, describing some of the text as “outrageous.”

He urged lawmakers to leave Discoverer’s Day as it is, rather than create another state holiday “where government workers get the day off with pay.”

Paid holidays must be negotiated with the public employee unions. That means that even if lawmakers approve the measure, it would would have no effect on public workers until the state and counties agree to the changes in negotiations with the unions, according to the state Office of Collective Bargaining.

Hawaii now has 13 state holidays each year plus the election-day holiday every two years. The measure now goes to the full Senate for further consideration.

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