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Native Americans protest at Capitol over observance of Columbus Day

FILE - Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, speaks in the Utah Senate March 2, 2016. Several people disrupted the state Senate on Monday to protest Utah's continued observance of Columbus Day and Weiler's comments on Native Americans last week.
FILE - Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, speaks in the Utah Senate March 2, 2016. Several people disrupted the state Senate on Monday to protest Utah's continued observance of Columbus Day and Weiler's comments on Native Americans last week.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Several Native Americans disrupted the state Senate on Monday to protest Utah's continued observance of Columbus Day.

Three men and woman began shouting from the gallery in the Senate chamber just as senators returned to the floor about 2:15 p.m. One held a sign reading, "Abolish Columbus Day. Stop Celebrating Genocide." Another man unfurled a red and yellow flag, which he later described as sacred.

They called senators racists and said the state had stolen their land as Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called for security. Several Utah Highway Patrol troopers showed up outside the Senate, including one with a K-9. The protestors continued to yell as they were escorted from the chamber.

"This guy's a murderer," one of the protestors shouted. He continued his demonstration outside the Senate chamber.

Senate staff suggested meeting privately in the Senate offices, resulting in a 90-minute, closed-door meeting between the group and state lawmakers — including Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

Protester Charles Aoires said the group came to speak out against Weiler's words about Native Americans last week.

"The native population gave the early explorers syphilis, which they brought back to Europe. 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," Weiler said during debate over SB170, a bill that would have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Aoires said the group found his words "racist" and "insensitive," and the meeting with Weiler didn't resolve their concerns.

Contributing: Dennis Romboy

Email: elarson@deseretnews.com