Indigenous community members, bill supporters advocate for state-wide recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day

The Massachusetts State House viewed from Beacon Street on Sept. 8, 2020. Photo by Caitlin Faulds/BU News Service.

By Megan Gregoire
Boston University News Service

BOSTON – This week, the State House’s Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight heard from members of various Indigenous peoples organizations regarding a bill that would make Indigenous Peoples Day a recognized holiday throughout the state. 

During the meeting, State Sen. Joanne M. Comerford, D-Northampton, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, highlighted the reasons why she believes Christopher Columbus Day should not be celebrated on the second Monday of October.

“It is hubris steeped in racism to credit a white man for discovering a land already teeming with societies,” Comerford said. 

Comerford also emphasized the chance for the Commonwealth to raise awareness toward Indigenous people throughout the state. 

“As a lawmaking body with the unique power to create holidays and elevate certain historic figures or groups, we have an awesome responsibility to get it right,” she said.

Currently, in addition to several states like California and South Dakota, a number of communities in Massachusetts recognize the holiday, including cities and towns in Comerford’s own district, such as Northampton and Amherst. Newton, Somerville and Cambridge, among other communities, also recognize the holiday in some way.

Many of the others who testified belonged to the advocacy group “Indigenous Peoples Day MA.” The group is a coalition of different organizations that works toward getting Indigenous Peoples Day legislation passed throughout the state. 

“America has to unlearn in order to re-learn again; to unlearn hate in order to love; to unlearn white supremacy for justice to rise. To unlearn false narratives like that Christopher Columbus discovered America,” said Chali’Naru Dones, a member of the Guainia Taino Tribe and group, Indigenous Peoples Day Newton.

Heather Leavell, the co-founder of Italian-Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day, spoke about how Italian culture is already celebrated widely, and why she thinks it is important to stand in solidarity with Native Americans.

“[Italian-Americans] enjoy a level of status and recognition in society that Native people do not,” Leavell said. “We have a responsibility to use the platform we now have to ensure we are not repeating the same patterns of abuse that our ancestors endured.”

While a majority of those who spoke did so in favor of the bill, Christopher Spagnuolo, an opponent of the bill, urged the committee to vote ‘no’. 

“Christopher Columbus is a complicated historical figure who has recently been portrayed as a villain responsible for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade…and the genocide of 17 million Indigenous people, which is all revisionist history and lies,” Spagnuolo said.

According to Senate Committee Chairman Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton, over 575 testimonies have been given in favor of passing the bill. 

Going forward, Indigenous Peoples Day MA plans on holding a rally on Saturday, Oct. 9, in Boston Common to raise awareness for recognition of the holiday. 

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