Is It Time For Wilmington To Replace “Columbus Day” With “Indigenous Peoples’ Day?”

WILMINGTON, MA — During last week’s Wilmington School Committee Meeting, Chair Jennifer Bryson wondered if it was time to eliminate reference to Columbus Day from the official school calendar.

“Many schools and universities have changed [Columbus Day] to say either ‘State Holiday’ or ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day,'” said Bryson, who works as a Program Director for Elementary Education at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. “I wonder if we might give that some consideration for our second reading [of the proposed 2022-2023 school calendar].”

“The term we’re trying to move to is to just say ‘State Holiday,’ which is what Boston Public Schools are doing, or ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day,’ which is what most universities are doing,” added Bryson.

“I know a lot of other school districts are ahead on that,” agreed School Committee MJ Byrnes. 

Byrnes noted she would be interested in discussing and researching the change, but that she would be opposed to including it in the school calendar discussion for fear that it could delay the calendar’s approval. She’d rather the matter be taken up as its own agenda item.

The issue of replacing references to Columbus Day also came up at a recent Wilmington Board of Selectmen Meeting.

In October, Selectman Kevin Caira — a longtime leader of the Sons of Italy at the local, state and federal levels — pointed out that the Wilmington Senior Center’s monthly newsletter referred to Monday, October 11, 2021 as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

“It’s actually a Columbus Day observance. I just wanted to make that point,” Selectman Caira told his colleagues at the end of one of their meetings. “Indigenous People’s Day isn’t quite a federal holiday as Columbus Day is, and Columbus Day should have been recognized in the newsletter.”

Town Manager Jeff Hull responded that he had spoken to Elderly Services Director Terri Marciello about the error and corrections would be made.

“A correction has been made on electronic form of the newsletter on the Center’s website. In addition, there will be notice of the change at the Elderly Services Commission Meeting,” stated Hull.

“There was no ill will intended here,” he added. “Some communities have opted to change the reference from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. That’s clearly not the case in Wilmington. For something like that to happen, it would require a Board of Selectmen action.”

In October 2021, President Joe Biden officially proclaimed an Indigenous Peoples’ Day observance — the first time in the country’s history. Columbus Day, however, continues to be recognized as a federal holiday under Biden.

15 states and the District of Columbus already celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of or in addition to Columbus Day. Massachusetts, however, is not on the list.

Massachusetts’s largest city — Boston — replaced Indigenous Peoples’ Day with Columbus Day via an Executive Order by then Mayor Kim Janey in October 2021. At least 20 other Massachusetts communities officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Several School Committees — including those in Acton-Boxborough, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell and Wayland — voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’Day in their school systems even though their town’s governing boards had not yet done so for the entire community.

According to the Indigenous Peoples Day MA coalition, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about more than a name change; it’s a refusal to allow the genocide of millions of Indigenous peoples to go unnoticed, and a demand for recognition of Indigenous humanity. Recognizing this day in place of what’s currently known as ‘Columbus Day’ is a way to correct false histories, honor Indigenous peoples, and begin to correct some of the countless wrongs committed against Indigenous peoples.”

According to the Order Sons and Daughter of Italy in America, “Columbus Day recognizes the achievements of a great Renaissance explorer who founded the first permanent European settlement in the New World. The arrival of Columbus in 1492 marks the beginning of recorded history in America and opened relations between the Americas and the rest of the world. Columbus Day is one of America’s oldest holiday, and is a patriotic holiday. In fact, the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 in honor of the 400th anniversary of his first voyage. That year, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day a legal holiday.”

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