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Massachusetts legislators consider replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

Christopher Columbus statue in Springfield, Massachusetts, South End neighborhood.
Elizabeth Román
Christopher Columbus statue in Springfield, Massachusetts, South End neighborhood.

The Massachusetts House held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day.

State Sen. Joanne "Jo" Comerford, D- Northampton, co-sponsored the bill aimed at acknowledging "the history of genocide and discrimination against Indigenous peoples, and to recognize and celebrate the thriving cultures and continued resistance and resilience of Indigenous peoples and their tribal nations," as stated in the proposed legislation.

"This holiday will pay rightful tribute to the contributions of indigenous people in Massachusetts: past, present, and future," she said.

Opponents say the name change would erase an important holiday celebrating Italian-American history.

State Rep. Jeffrey Turco, D- Winthrop, spoke at the hearing.

"I think it's important to talk about the history of the contributions of Italian-American people. Nobody objects to creating an Indigenous People Day, but to pit one group of people against another people I think is an unfortunate approach," he said, suggesting lawmakers should instead pass legislation enabling Native American tribes to reclaim their land.

While legislators considered the bill, western Massachusetts residents shared varying opinions on the change.

Wesley Lane is a carpenter who lives in Agawam and thinks the name should remain.

"The indigenous people - yeah, they got screwed," Lane said. "But people are getting too woke too quick. They need to wake up and realize that this is how our country was formed. Suck it up. It's how other countries were formed. I mean, it's ridiculous."

Timothy Bancroft, a chauffeur and Springfield resident, said the name change would be one way to repair the damage done to indigenous communities.

"We need to pay homage to the people that were originally here. I think they are often forgotten and left behind and fighting for the little things that they get. But I think they are owed much more," he said.

Shaggy Del Rosario is a Springfield resident and student at Springfield Technical Community College. He also agrees with replacing the holiday.

"I think they definitely should change it because like, you know, indigenous people were... the ones that were here first pretty much. And it's good that they're like trying to not erase the history. So, I mean, that's pretty dope in my opinion," he said.

Tairy Feliciano is a cook and identifies as indigenous. She feels replacing the holiday would be a "tough" decision.

"A lot of people will be against it... you're taking away something that's been there for a long time... So it's like two different prides coming together, knocking heads," she said. "...we don't want to make people feel lesser than we are. We just want to make everybody happy and content [and] be like, 'Listen, this is what happened... Maybe we come together and we can celebrate together and come to one unity."

If the bill passes, the governor would annually recommend that Indigenous Peoples Day be observed by schools and other institutions.

This report includes information from State House News Service.