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City council will consider changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day

  • Concord City Hall

Monitor staff
Published: 9/14/2021 6:55:40 PM

Concord City Councilors will consider changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the city’s Code of Ordinances after a heated discussion Monday night.

Ward 10 Councilor Zandra Rice Hawkins initially presented a motion for the city council to change the name of the holiday honoring Christopher Columbus without a public hearing.

“This change has been advocated for decades,” she said while introducing her original motion. “It helps to acknowledge the physical and cultural harm, genocide and discrimination that indigenous peoples have faced.”

Skipping a public hearing wasn’t an oversight.

“The reason I’m not suggesting the public hearing here is that it’s not our role to debate the validity of lived experiences of historically marginalized communities when they tell us that something is harmful to them,” Rice Hawkins said.

After discussion with the council and city attorney Jim Kennedy about legal procedures, Rice Hawkins instead proposed altering the personnel section of the city’s Code of Ordinances that names Columbus Day as an official holiday for city staff. That process will take two months and require public input before the council can vote on changing the holiday’s name.

She noted that the Concord School District changed the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day last year, and that the concept of replacing the holiday’s name began circulating in the 1970s.

Ward Four Councilor Karen McNamara, who is a teacher in Manchester, agreed that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not a new idea in education.

The majority of the council voted in favor of Rice Hawkins’ motion to move forward with the amendment to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The issue will appear on the October 12 meeting agenda and a public hearing will be held on Nov. 8, after this year’s holiday.

At-Large City Councilor Fred Keach and Ward Seven Councilor Keith Nyhan voted against the motion, arguing that the council was moving too quickly and should propose a more open-ended change to the ordinance to allow for options like naming the holiday Cultural Awareness Day instead.

Some of the pushback centered on process and allowing for community input. “I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea but I want to hear from the community,” Keach said.

“I think it’s premature to craft an ordinance before we’ve had any discussion on what it should be called, what it shouldn’t be called. I think the process out to be gathering input from our citizens and there’s absolutely no rush on this,” he said. “With all due respect, Councilor, I think you’re just trying to push this through quickly.”

Nyhan said he was unsure from the council’s discussion which name should be used to replace Columbus Day.

“I suggest we follow the process and leave the name blank and leave the substance of what we’re going to celebrate open to discussion,” said Nyhan. “Because frankly, where I’m at right now, is we need to have something more akin to cultural awareness day in the city rather than identify one set or subset of a group of people.”

Other councilors raised the idea that changing the name of Columbus Day would be oppressive to Italian Americans.

Ward Three Councilor Jennifer Kretovic said that the holiday was clearly intended to celebrate discovery, not genocide.

“It became something that our Italian American immigrant population held on to as a celebration at a time when they were being oppressed, because they were short, and because they were of a dark color,” Kretovic said. “I would hate to replace one holiday by suppressing another segment of the population.”

At-Large Councilor Byron Champlin agreed with Kretovic and said he would prefer to remove the association with Columbus entirely from the holiday, while providing some kind of recognition to Italian Americans.

“What we would be doing is taking away recognizing one minority group as being persecuted in order to recognize another,” Champlin said. “I would love to consider something like an Indigenous Americans’/Italian Americans’ Day, and take Columbus out of it. Because certainly, the history shows that Columbus led the vanguard in a genocidal movement.”

Kennedy said that the city process for an ordinance change like this would typically begin with a study committee.

Ward Six Councilor Linda Kenison rejected the idea of starting with forming a committee, saying that Concord residents should be able to provide input on the change itself instead of on a blank ordinance. Rice Hawkins agreed, and expressed frustration with the council’s slow action on racial justice issues.

“Sixteen months ago, people on this council did not want to pass a statement on racial justice because they wanted to have community conversations. Sixteen months later, we still have not had a community conversation,” Rice Hawkins said.

“You should have said ‘during a pandemic,’ ” said Kretovic, before being told to let Rice Hawkins finish speaking.

“We were able to move the Gas Holder conversation in a very short time frame, and that included finances,” Rice Hawkins continued. “This isn’t hard, and I want to emphasize that people really hurt when they hear this.”

In summer 2020, the City Council announced that it would hold community forums on racial justice for the public. Since then, city councilors and staff have decided to first undergo a training with the National League of Cities, which has not yet taken place.


Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.



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