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Colorado Bills Could Be Wins for Asian, Native American Communities

One of the measures heading to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk would recognize Lunar New Year as an observed state holiday. The other two would adopt the ICWA and allow traditional Native American regalia at graduation ceremonies.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis
Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced plans to reduce property tax rates and implement long-term protections to prevent future property tax increases during a press conference at the Colorado Capitol on May 1, 2023, in Denver.
(Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
(TNS) — Three bills that would be wins for Colorado’s Asian and Native American populations are heading to the governor’s desk.

One measure would recognize Lunar New Year as an observed state holiday on the first Friday in February if Gov. Jared Polis signs it. Lunar New Year, which dates back to the 14th century B.C., is already celebrated by a number of Asian populations worldwide, including in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and more.

“It’s a direct and meaningful thread to our motherland, our ancestors, our culture, our language, and customs,” said Nga Vương-Sandoval, chair of the Lunar New Year Allies advisory group, on Wednesday. “Over two billion people celebrate this holiday across the globe.”

Colorado won’t be the only place in the U.S. to commemorate this holiday, joining the ranks of New York City, Iowa City and San Francisco.

The bill was introduced at the end of March by Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales and Reps. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Matt Soper – a Democrat and Republican, respectively. The House of Representatives passed it on April 21, with the Senate doing the same on Tuesday.

“We’re all witnessing history in the making,” said Vương-Sandoval, a human rights advocate in Denver. She’s one of around 24,000 Vietnamese-Americans who call Colorado home. “It’s an overwhelmingly proud moment for all of us.”

Polis is also set to consider signing legislation that aims to protect Native American children in guardianship and adoption cases.

The measure would adopt the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 – a federal law that sets the standards for the removal and placement of Native American children, with the goal of keeping them with their families. The move by Colorado legislators comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the act.

“For decades, the Indian Child Welfare Act has been recognized as the gold standard in child welfare practice by experts,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Now that anti-tribal interests who want to undermine tribal sovereignty have made their way to the Supreme Court, it’s vital that we act immediately to protect Indigenous kids on a state level.”

His chamber passed the bill on April 18, and the House followed suit on April 26.

Another Indigenous issue is tackled in a bill heading to Polis. The measure would require schools to let Native American students don traditional regalia at graduation ceremonies.

The Native American Rights Fund has long advocated on behalf of graduates who’ve faced hurdles in wearing their eagle feathers when they receive their diplomas on stage. Colorado would join a dozen other states in enshrining the allowance for Indigenous students.

“No Native American student should have to choose between participating in their graduation with their classmates or following their religious and cultural traditions,” said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a bill sponsor. “Our country has a long and tragic history of suppressing Native American culture and forcing people to assimilate.”

“It’s time for Colorado to enshrine these protections for Native American students once and for all.”

The House passed the measure on April 26, with the Senate repassing it the next day.

Members of at least 200 tribal nations live throughout the Denver area, with almost 208,000 Colorado residents identifying as either American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in combination with other ethnicities.

Signed Into Law

Another bill that helps out disadvantaged Coloradans became a state law last month.

On April 11, Polis signed a measure that mandated auto, home and renters insurers to offer policy documents in not only the same language they advertised in, but also in any language upon request. The information must be translated by a certified or qualified professional.

“Expanding language access requirements helps to even the playing field for non-English speakers,” said Sen. Gonzales, the bill’s sponsor, alongside Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Velasco.

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