Beacon Hill Push for Indigenous Peoples Day secures support from Italian-American groups

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Indigenous peoples and other activists calling for the state to rename Columbus Day garnered support from some Italian-Americans on Tuesday who said they too believed Massachusetts should make the change.

State law requires the governor to proclaim the second Monday in October each year as Columbus Day, “so that the remembrance of the courage, perseverance and spiritual fervor of Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of the ‘America, may be perpetuated’.

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

Supporters of the bills opposed the idea that Italian navigator Columbus had truly discovered the Americas, already populated lands, and said the change would recognize the resilience of indigenous peoples who suffered colonization.

Mahtowin Munro, who is Lakota and has spoken on behalf of the United American Indians of New England and the statewide Indigenous Peoples Day campaign, said Indigenous peoples are calling for the replacement of Columbus Day since the 1970s.

“Almost all of us were 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 did not need to have civilization or spirituality brought to us since we already had many civilizations and beliefs.”

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

Alex DeFronzo, an Italian-American resident of East Boston, said that 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 enslavement of hundreds of people. Indigenous”.

“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 could 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 and Italian-American immigrants.

“The suppression of Columbus Day sets a bad precedent,” he said. “It elevates one culture while marginalizing another. It is hurtful to all immigrants who see this day as a celebration of their acceptance in America after decades of racism, prejudice and violence. Columbus Day symbolizes the experience of the 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 Peoples Day, said her group sympathizes with the sentiments of Italian-Americans who see the day 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 observe or locally declare Indigenous Peoples 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 switching to Indigenous Peoples Day in his town has been an “incredibly useful way to educate people and raise awareness about Indigenous peoples who continue to live in our community and on 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 to ‘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, a major sponsor 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. “


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