Honoring Indigenous Peoples Day in Sharon
Many of us have been taught inaccurate, incomplete, and idealized histories of Columbus’ expeditions. In more recent years, there has been an increased awareness from those outside of Indigenous communities of a more accurate account of the arrival of Columbus in the “new world.” It has been documented that Columbus never set foot on what is now known as the United States, although he has been inaccurately credited with its discovery. Scientific research tells us that Indigenous Peoples have been living on and caring for this land for at least 20,000 years. An inhabited land cannot be ‘discovered’, nor was Columbus the first explorer to reach the Americas. While Christopher Columbus has been uplifted as a hero, there is evidence from his own diaries that boasts of the harms he and his crew perpetrated against the Taino people. He noted, “They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Columbus initiated the transatlantic slave trade and captured over 500 Taino people. Columbus’ voyage led to an ongoing genocide that occurred through slavery, forced removal policies, and stealing of Indigenous children and placing them in boarding schools until 1978. The violence against Indigenous People continues to this day in the invisibility of missing and murdered Indigenous women, through the adoption of Native children into White families through the foster care system, and the continued stripping away of land, culture, religion, and language through harmful governmental policy. At the time that Columbus arrived on the island of Hispaniola and he first encountered the Taino, Indigenous people encompassed 100% of the population on what is now known as the United States. As of the time of the last U.S. census Native people account for 2% of the population. Despite this staggering figure, Indigenous communities continue to have a strong and enduring presence on this land. There are currently 574 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations and over 200 additional tribes in the United States each with their own distinct cultures, rich histories, and vital contributions to the fabric of society.
The Indigenous-led movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day began in 1977, when it was first proposed by a delegation of tribal nations at the United Nation's International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. In Massachusetts, this movement is being led by Indigenous Peoples Day MA “as a refusal to allow the genocide of millions of Indigenous peoples to go unnoticed” and as “a way to correct false histories, honor Indigenous peoples, and begin to correct some of the countless wrongs committed against Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.” There has been pushback from some sects of the Italian community expressing that no longer celebrating Columbus Day would be “anti-Italian.” Indigenous advocates draw this important distinction: “we understand that Columbus and the harm he caused doesn’t represent the Italian people as whole...and this move is not “anti-Italian” but is instead anti-genocide.” Italian Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day formed in solidarity with the thousands of Native people across Massachusetts advocating for the holiday name change. As a fourth-generation Italian American, I believe that it is crucial for fellow Italian Americans to acknowledge the intergenerational harm and trauma caused by Columbus and to become allies to the Indigenous community.
Across the state, at least 20 Massachusetts cities and towns have officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. And as of last week, the city of Boston joined the growing number of cities and towns to make this change. Colleges, universities, and public K-12 school districts are also choosing instead to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. Locally, last winter the School Committee began discussions about the impact of keeping both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day on the school calendar. Following an advisory opinion from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee describing the importance of not continuing to glorify Christopher Columbus and the colonial genocide that followed his arrival, the School Committee unanimously voted to remove Columbus Day from the School calendars and solely recognize Indigenous Peoples Day in perpetuity. Several months later the Select Board followed the lead of the School Committee and unanimously voted to honor the first Indigenous Peoples Day in Sharon this year, until this can officially be changed through a town meeting vote. The vast majority of public comments from Sharon residents about the holiday name change expressed support for Indigenous Peoples Day in order to acknowledge the harm perpetrated by Columbus and as a way to honor the resilience and contributions of Indigenous Peoples. Please join SREA in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day by participating in some of the action steps below.
Read: An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, “All the Real Indians Died Off” And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker, The Mourning Road to Thanksgiving by Larry Spotted Crow Mann, As Long as Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Educate your children
Talk to your children or students about the true history of Columbus and the impact on Indigenous peoples by dispelling myths and increasing representation in the curriculum and on their bookshelves. There are great suggestions and book lists here, here, and here.
Attend Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations
There are many opportunities for learning about Indigenous experiences and contributions over the next few weeks that can be found on the statewide IPD event list.
Be an advocate
If you are Italian American, sign the statement by Italian Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day here.