Hopkinton shifts from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day beginning in 2019

  • 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 eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) Bebeto Matthews

Monitor staff
Published: 11/8/2018 3:43:21 PM

Three years after a motion to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples day failed in a split vote, the Hopkinton select board revisited the idea and voted in favor of the change.

The board approved the change with a unanimous 5-0 vote at its Oct. 29 meeting.

Beginning in 2019, the October holiday will appear as Indigenous Peoples Day in the town’s employee handbook and calendar. It will also appear on signage when the town offices are closed for the holiday.

Lynn Clark, a Hopkinton resident and former director of the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, said the change is a positive step toward honoring Native Americans.

“We’re not going to be solving all of the problems, but it’s a great first step for us to recognize that there were indigenous people here and that they are still here,” she said at the board’s Oct. 15 meeting.

Selectwoman Sarah Persechino initially proposed changing the name during her previous term on the board in 2015, but the motion failed in a split 2-2 vote.

Board chairman Jim O’Brien voted against the measure three years ago but changed his position this time around.

“I will admit I was skeptical, not because we’ve had this holiday forever but more of the symbolic nature and I didn’t find it as moving,” O’Brien said at the Oct. 15 meeting. “But over the past couple of months I have read and sort of researched a lot on the Native American population ... I had been sort of ignorant on the Native American culture and the contributions they’ve made.

“It’s not a diss on Columbus,” he added. “Although Columbus is probably an undeserving person for a holiday, and I think the Native American population is deserving of a holiday.”

Hopkinton is believed to be the second town in the state to adopt Indigenous Peoples day in lieu of Columbus Day after Durham made the change in September 2017.

The New Hampshire House rejected a bill in March that would have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day statewide. Opponents suggested the change would disrespect the Italian heritage of Christoper Columbus.

Clark, an anthropologist who identified herself as Italian-American, told the Hopkinton board that she disagrees that changing the name of the holiday is disrespectful.

“It’s time to move on,” she said. “I think we really have done a disservice to indigenous people here. We have this history where every year we are honoring someone who was horrific.”

No one spoke against the change at either of the two board meetings where it was discussed, except one resident who expressed concern at the Oct. 15 meeting that not enough members of the public had weighed in.

Board members voted to table the vote for two weeks in the hope that more people would come to the Oct. 29 discussion. The discussion was included on the meeting’s agenda but drew no response, except for a few emails sent to the board supporting the change and one opposing it.

The conversation has taken place in states and communities across the nation. Alaska was the first to adopt Indigenous Peoples Day when Gov. Bill Walker signed off on the bill in 2017.

Other states followed, including Vermont where Gov. Phil Scott issued an executive proclamation for the state to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day earlier this year. South Dakota, Hawaii and Oregon have made the change, as have the cities of San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis.

Persechino said it was important to her to bring the issue back up in Hopkinton.

“It is a way to acknowledge and remember the mass atrocities in the history of native peoples, a way to acknowledge their contemporary struggles as a result of colonization, and honor their contributions – past and present – to our country,” she wrote in an email. “It is my hope that while this is just a change to our Town employee calendar, it encourages people to learn more about our country’s history and Indigenous Peoples.”

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