Columbus Day renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day

by Alex Merkowitz, News Editor & Sarah Wei, News Reporter
photo courtesy of CBS Boston

The Newton City Council has voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The long-contested issue was reintroduced to the council with a formal requested change last year.

On Oct. 9, the Programs and Services Committee held a public hearing, which included an opportunity for public comment to debate the proposed change.

On Nov. 2, the council voted to officially change the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

City Councilor Emily Norton said it is vital to listen to the voices of indigenous people who campaigned to change the holiday.

“This is something that indigenous people themselves have been requesting for several decades,” she said. “A part of addressing historical inequities and injustices is listening to the people who have been harmed.”

Proponents of the change to Indigenous Peoples’ Day argue that Columbus should not be celebrated due to the violence and abuse he inflicted on the native population he encountered on his voyages, junior Jessie Traxler said.

“Christopher Columbus was a horrible person, not just compared to modern standards but in his own time,” she said. “He was a rapist and murderer, and he shouldn’t be honored with ‘discovering America.’” 

English teacher Kelly Henderson said that celebrating Columbus Day indicates acceptance of his violence.

“We are all living on stolen land, and by honoring Columbus with a holiday, we continue to signal support for the brutality of that land’s seizure while simultaneously indicating disregard for indigenous communities,” she said.

Many opponents of the renaming are Italian Americans, who consider Columbus Day a celebration of their culture and heritage.

City Councilor Maria Scibelli Greenberg said that Columbus Day’s significance extends past Columbus himself. 

“The day represents more than just the celebration of the man, but of Italian pride and their contributions to America,” she said.

Robert M. Ferrito, president of the Commission for Social Justice, a branch of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America, said that the holiday embodies Italian American achievement and Columbus’s daring spirit. 

“To Italian Americans, statues and monuments erected in memory of Christopher Columbus represent not only the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans but also the indelible spirit of risk, sacrifice and self-reliance of a great Italian icon,” he said.“Even if others visited the continent sporadically before, it was Columbus who marked the end of thousands of years of isolation between the Western Hemisphere and the rest of the world.”

Norton said that the decision to change the holiday should not be offensive to Italian Americans.

“It is not about disrespecting Italian Americans, but [about] removing someone from a place of honor who was responsible for so much suffering and finding a different way to recognize the contributions of Italian Americans,” she said. 

Henderson said that the renaming of Indigenous Peoples’ Day signifies the acknowledgement and appreciation of indigenous people in Newton.

“The language we use as a society conveys important messages about what and whom we value,” she said. “By calling the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we are acknowledging the horrific legacy of colonialism in this country, and we are telling our indigenous communities: we see you, and we celebrate you.”