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Columbus Day To Be Called 'Indigenous Peoples Day' In Two More Maine Communities

Elected officials in Brunswick and Portland voted Monday night to call the federal Columbus Day holiday "Indigenous Peoples Day."

At Portland’s City Council, residents and others spoke on both sides of the issue. And many - on both sides - condemned the nation's history of genocide against Native Americans, which has its roots in the European conquest of this continent.

Maulian Dana Smith, an ambassador of the Penobscot Indian Nation from Indian Island, told the council that for her people, Columbus symbolizes the onset of a multi-generational trauma.

"It's a very simple ask. We can acknowledge history, we can commemorate it, we can see Columbus as a flawed historical figure that made contributions but also made very atrocious and heinous crimes against humanity," Smith said. "That's the reality, and you can't ask indigenous people to gloss over that reality so everyone can  have a day off from work."

Some speakers of Italian descent, however, called for creating a separate holiday recognizing Indigenous people's suffering and accomplishments, but leaving Columbus Day as it is. One called the proposal to change the name a "slap in the face" to Italian Americans who helped build the city.

But Jim Dibiase, a member of the city's Italian Heritage Center, took pains to acknowledge the suffering native Americans experienced at the newcomers' hands.  He argued, though, that national recognition of Columbus Day played a vital role in the legitimization of Italian immigrants in American society.

"Our transition from Italians to Americans," Dibiase said. "Our Italian-American ancestors, facing bigotry and discrimination, identified Columbus as an Italian celebrated significantly across America for establishing a lasting bridge between the Old World and the New World."

The council voted unanimously to set the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day. Last night, Brunswick's Town Council did so as well, following in the footsteps of  Belfast and Orono, along with the city of Bangor, which made a similar move last month.

The actions have no legal effect on the federally recognized Columbus Day holiday.