Boston Mayor Kim Janey signed an executive order on October 6, 2021 declaring the second Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples Day in the City of Boston. This year, the holiday will be celebrated on Monday, October 11. The official recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day in Boston is the culmination of a years-long campaign by the organizations Indigenous Peoples Day Boston, Indigenous Peoples Day MA, United American Indians of New England (UAINE), the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), and Cultural Survival. Advocates for the change called a positive step toward properly acknowledging the decimation of Indigenous people and the theft of their land that began when the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas (specifically, the Bahamas) on October 12, 1492.
An effort to pass a statewide law codifying Indigenous Peoples Day is also underway. During a recent legislative hearing, Mahtowin Munro, a Lakota who spoke on behalf of UAINE and Indigenous Peoples Day MA, explained why it is important to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, as opposed to Columbus Day, in October:
“Nearly all of us were falsely taught as young children that Columbus discovered America,” Munro said. “Indigenous people were not ‘discovered’ by anybody 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.”
Other Massachusetts municipalities that have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day include Brookline, Cambridge, Falmouth, Holyoke, Northampton, Somerville.
In Connecticut, the Hartford City Council just voted to do the same on September 29. Earlier this year, the South Windsor School Board voted unanimously to add Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus day on its school calendar. But in an example of the controversy that sometimes surrounds the Indigenous Peoples Day Movement, the Stonington School Board in August overturned a previous vote to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day after deciding that they needed more community input on the matter. While arguments in support of Columbus Day often note that the holiday has come to be associated with a more general celebration of Italian heritage rather than Columbus himself, the opposition in Stonington seemed to stem from the latest right-wing conservative education bugaboo: any curricula that helps students understand racism and learn how not to be racist.
Despite pockets of opposition, the movement in support of Indigenous People’s Day is clearly growing. Speaking in favor of the statewide legislation to recognize the holiday, Heather Leavell, co-founder of Italian Americans for Indigenous People’s Day, expressed empathy for the arguments of Italian Americans who take pride in Columbus Day, while noting that “things are much different for us today”:
“Our culture is celebrated, especially throughout October, which is officially recognized as Italian-American Heritage Month in the Commonwealth,” Leavell told lawmakers. “We enjoy a level of status and recognition in society that native people do not, and we have a responsibility to use that platform we now have to ensure we are not repeating the same patterns of abuse that our ancestors endured.”
Similarly, Hartford City Councilor Josh Mitchom said his support for Indigenous People’s Day was not an “anti-Italian step” rather it was “a step toward recognizing what went wrong what was done badly and embracing a more humane way of treating one another.”
As is the case with other minoritized populations, Indigenous children are overrepresented in the child welfare system. Nationally, Native American/Alaskan Native children represent less than one percent of all children nationally. But they comprise 2.4 percent of all children entering foster care, which means they are represented in the child welfare system at nearly three times their population rate.
Such racial disparities also exist among Native American/Alaskan Native adults living with disabilities. Although just 19 percent of the adult population is living with a disability, nearly one-quarter of all Native American/Alaskan Native adults are doing so. The reasons vary, but one critical factor is limited access to health care. The Indian Health Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is charged with providing health care to over 2.2 million Native Americans. But the American Bar Association has observed that the agency is failing to meet its “legal obligation … to provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives” and that as a result “tribal members have a different health care reality than many other U.S. citizens.” Their life span is shorter than that of other U.S. residents by 4.4 years and they experience higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, that can lead to disabilities.
As we’ve written elsewhere, HopeWell is committed to “[t]ruth about our racist history and reconciliation with its impact on our lives today.” This includes understanding why Native American/Alaskan Native children and adults are overrepresented as children experiencing foster care and adults living with disabilities. It also includes joining the movement to recognize and observe Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October each year.