Concord School Board changes Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day 

  • In this Aug. 27, 2017 photo, the Christopher Columbus statue stands at Manhattan's Columbus Circle in New York. A movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day has new momentum but the gesture to recognize victims of European colonialism has also prompted howls of outrage from some Italian Americans, who say removing Columbus’ name from the holiday is culturally insensitive, too. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) Bebeto Matthews

Monitor staff
Published: 10/6/2020 1:53:03 PM

The Concord School Board has voted to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day within the school district.

The school calendar and documentation will be updated this week to reflect the change, which passed 8-0 at the end of the monthly board meeting on Monday.

The decision was supported by all board members present at the meeting, but received particular support from the school board’s student representatives, Alice Richards and Jenita Aquino-Patzan, in light of recent anti-racism efforts within the district. Board member Tom Croteau was absent.

“This year we’ve been talking about reforming our curriculum. It’s helpful to not push the continued American imperialism and whitewashed history going forward,” Richards said. “I think this could be a teaching day for our students and members of our community as to why we shouldn’t glorify Christopher Columbus and should rather teach the real realities of the event.”

Historians have said explorer Christopher Columbus and his crew enslaved people in Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands, sold many into slavery in Spain and introduced new diseases like smallpox, measles and influenza that decimated native populations in Hispaniola, now Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Activists say celebrating “Columbus Day” on the second Monday of October to commemorate his landing in the Americas in 1492 glorifies imperialism and should be replaced by with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to recognize the struggles and the accomplishments of native people who were here before him.

On Monday, board members discussed a few different options for renaming, including leaving the holiday nameless or with the designation “no school day,” but Richards and Aquino-Patzan repeatedly advocated for it to be called Indigenous People’s Day.

“We have a lot of refugees coming here. I think it’s really important that they know that there are indigenous people here and we do celebrate them, and we’re not going to glorify this person,” Aquino-Patzan said.

Today at least 10 U.S. states, including Vermont and Maine, and many college campuses now celebrate some version of Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an alternative to Columbus Day.

In New Hampshire, the town of Durham made the switch in September 2017, and Hopkinton followed in October 2018. On Aug. 27, the town of Dover voted to make the change. A bill to make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a statewide holiday came before the New Hampshire Legislature in 2018, 2019 and 2020 but failed each time.

The idea of changing the name within the Concord School District was raised at the Concord School Board’s Sept. 8 board meeting, but at the advice of interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy, the board put off making a decision until the public had a chance to comment and the City and Community Relations Committee had a chance to discuss it.

“I would caution you – this is a very emotional, passionate topic,” Murphy told the board Sept. 8. “I just don’t want you to go into a territory where you are creating controversy over a decision you’ve made without giving people the chance to discuss it.”

Only one member of the public – Roy Schweiker, who is running for school board in District A – commented on the topic during Monday’s meeting. Schweiker suggested calling it “Intercontinental Cultural Exchange Day.”

Concord School Board members considered postponing the vote again until after Murphy had discussed the matter with the Concord City Council and the school board’s community relations committee on Oct. 16, but decided to vote Monday in order to have a plan in place in time for this year’s holiday on Oct. 12.

“I think our inaction is going to be heard louder than a wrong action,” said board member Chuck Crush, who made the motion to vote. “Given we’ve been talking all about inclusion and making sure that we have that kind of spirit of the community and making sure we are not reflecting a history that is wrong.”

The school district will continue the discussion with city officials on the topic as planned, and board member Liza Poinier expressed hope that the district’s decision may influence the city council to consider a similar change.

“I also want to make sure that we are working closely with the city ... and encourage and help them to make the same move for the city of Concord,” Poinier said. “We can do it as a school board and that’s great, but even better if we can stake that claim of leadership and say: this is the right thing to do ... let’s go for it.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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