WASHINGTON -- Growing up on the Sandia Pueblo Reservation, New Mexico state Rep. Derrick J. Lente learned the same Christopher Columbus stories in school that his parents and grandparents had learned.
"I was taught he discovered my ancestors, essentially, no matter how far removed we are from the ocean," said Lente, 40. Sandia people have cultivated land near Albuquerque since 1300 A.D. and trace their lineage to the Aztec civilization.
"Christopher Columbus didn't find us," he said. "We have our own creation stories, our own language, our own history."
Lente later learned the Italian explorer, who set out to find a trade route to Asia, landed in the Bahamas in October 1492 and never set foot on what would become the United States. He concluded that Columbus "led genocide, rape, pillage and death, and he tried to extinguish a large Native American population."
This year, Lente, a second-term Democrat -- in a state where more than a tenth of residents are American Indian -- successfully sponsored a bill ditching Columbus Day, fighting back attempts to rename the holiday New Mexico Day or Friendship Day.
Instead, the new Indigenous Peoples' Day state holiday will be celebrated with Native American dancers, speakers, arts and food at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.
But to New Mexico state Sen. William E. Sharer, a Republican who opposed the change, the new holiday is a "slap at Americans. All Americans."
He has no problem with creating Indigenous Peoples' Day in a state with 23 tribes and pueblos, but scrapping Columbus? "There's no reason to turn it into an anti-American holiday," Sharer said.
"Columbus was the first step to creating the American idea," Sharer said. "The way it's brought up, Columbus was evil, a rapist and a murderer who enslaved people, and everything that comes after should be destroyed."
The debate over the holiday has split more statehouses this year, growing heated as it touches on immigration, race and equality at a time when those issues increasingly divide the country.