Broad support for transition to Indigenous Peoples Day

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BOSTON – Indigenous Peoples and Other Activists Call on State to Rename Columbus Day garnered support in their push on Tuesday from some Italian-Americans who said they too believed Massachusetts should make the switch.

State law requires the governor to annually proclaim the second Monday in October as Columbus Day, “at the end that the memory of the courage, the perseverance and the spiritual fervor of Christophe Columbus, discoverer of America, can be perpetuated. “

Less than two weeks before the arrival of that holiday, the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight heard testimony on a pair of bills (H 3191, S 2027) that would instead proclaim by the governor that daytime Indigenous populations Day “Recognize the history of genocide and discrimination against indigenous peoples, and recognize and celebrate flourishing cultures and the continued resistance and resilience of indigenous peoples and their tribal nations”.

Supporters of the bills rejected the idea that the Italian navigator Columbus truly discovered the Americas, land already populated, and said the change would recognize the resilience of indigenous peoples who endured colonization.

Mahtowin Munro, who is Lakota and has spoken on behalf of the United American Indians of New England and the Indigenous peoples of the state Day campaign, said that indigenous peoples demanded the replacement of Columbus Day since the 1970s.

“Almost all of us have been falsely taught as young children that Columbus discovered America, ”she said. “The indigenous peoples were not discovered by anyone since we were already here and were certainly not lost. We didn’t need to be given civilization or spirituality since we already had many civilizations and beliefs. “

Faries Gray, a sagamore from the Massachusett tribe of Ponkapoag, said indigenous people across America Columbus as “a terrorist” and celebrating it with a vacation teaches children “that it is okay to do this to indigenous people.”

Alex DeFronzo, an Italian-American resident of East Boston, said Columbus documented in his writings “his legacy of genocide against the Taino and Carib peoples, the sex trafficking of indigenous women and girls and the slavery of hundreds of indigenous people”.

“The people of Massachusetts and Wampanoag for more than 8,000 years before the arrival of European colonizers took care of this land in a sustainable manner,” said DeFronzo. “I think if we’re going to honor and celebrate either the second Monday in October, it’s obvious what’s worthy and what’s not.”

The only person who testified against the bills at the hearing, Christopher Spagnuolo, described Columbus as a “complicated historical figure” and said there may be different interpretations of his diaries.

Spagnuolo said the first national celebration of Columbus Day, in 1892, was “to atone for a racist crime” – the lynching of a group of Italian men in New Orleans, one of a series of acts of violence and discrimination in the country’s history against Italian immigrants and Italian Americans.

“To delete Columbus Day sets a bad precedent, ”he said. “It elevates one culture while marginalizing another. It is hurtful to all immigrants who see the daytime as a celebration of being accepted in America after decades of racism, prejudice and violence. Columbus Day symbolizes the experience of immigrants to the United States and the struggle for acceptance, human rights and dignity. “

He suggested a compromise that honors Italian-Americans in October and Indigenous peoples in November, which is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month.

Heather Leavell, who co-founded Italian Americans for Indigenous People’s Day, said his group sympathized with the sentiments of Italian-Americans who daytime as a symbol of their ancestors overcoming adversity.

“But things are very different for us today,” said Leavell, a Bedford resident. “Our culture is celebrated, especially throughout the month of October, which is officially recognized as Italian-American Heritage Month in the Commonwealth. We enjoy a level of status and recognition in society as native people don’t have, and we have a responsibility to use this platform as we now need to make sure that we don’t repeat the same patterns of abuse that our ancestors endured. “

The timing of the hearing makes it unlikely that the bill – which would still require a committee vote, multiple votes in both branches of the Legislature, and Gov. Charlie Baker’s approval – could become law before the recess of this year, October 11.

In the last session, the committee killed the bill by including it in an order for further study.

Several communities in Massachusetts have already taken steps to locally observe or declare an Indigenous people Day.

Senator Jo Comerford, who tabled the Senate version of the bill, said six towns and villages in her district had done so, and Somerville representative Christine Barber, a committee member who said she hoped that the bill would move forward, said the shift to Indigenous Peoples Day in her city has been an “incredibly useful way to educate people and raise awareness about the indigenous peoples who continue to live in our community and upon whom we live.”

Comerford, a Democrat from Northampton, told her colleagues they could “spend this hearing and dozens of others” telling the stories of other explorers and adventurers who, unlike Columbus, were not honored with a holiday.

Having the ability to create vacations and “uplift certain historical figures and groups” gives lawmakers “a huge responsibility … to get it right, not to spread false information, not to engage in it. historical revisionism, ”she said.

Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley, one of the main sponsors of the House bill with Rep. Jack Lewis, said Hawaii, South Dakota, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont have all permanently replaced Columbus Day with holidays recognizing indigenous peoples.

The Boston Democrat said since 2018 eight states and Washington, DC have issued proclamations recognizing Indigenous peoples Day, while Alabama and Oklahoma celebrate both holidays.

“Who we choose to celebrate demonstrates the contributions we value in Massachusetts,” she said. “While we rightly criticize states and communities that cling to racist monuments of Confederation, Massachusetts should lead the way in recognizing that Columbus Day promotes a troubling racial history and we should instead show our support for Indigenous neighbors by declaring this holiday. “

– Katie Lannan, State House Press Office

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