Concord High graduate files complaint saying decision to change name of Columbus Day holiday is discrimination

  • 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: 10/8/2020 5:34:11 PM

A Nashua man has filed a complaint with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights against the Concord School Board, saying that changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day is discrimination.

Mark Rufo, a lawyer and graduate of the Concord School District, filed the written complaint Thursday against the eight individual members of the school board who voted on Oct. 5 to change the name of the holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The complaint claims the decision violates the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, as well as the school board’s own anti-discrimination policy.

“It’s my hometown and my old school. I don’t like to see what’s happening,” Rufo said in a phone interview Thursday. “I don’t know what they are teaching kids these days, but it doesn’t sound like they are teaching them good things. They are teaching them to hate their country and themselves.”

In the complaint, Rufo says that getting rid of a holiday honoring Christopher Columbus is discrimination against people who are Italian, Hispanic, Catholic, Christian and white European like Columbus. Rufo himself has Italian heritage.

“The objective effect of the resolution of the Concord School Board is to say or imply that Hispanics do not belong in America, as they would not be here but for the voyages of Columbus,” the document reads. “The Concord School Board is guilty of race prejudice and bigotry in passing this resolution.”

Towns and school districts across the country have been making the switch from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in recent years. Activists say celebrating “Columbus Day” 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 Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492.

In the complaint, Rufo takes issue with the name “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” arguing that the only people who can be called “indigenous” are ancient people who walked across a land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age and that all other people who have lived in the Americas since have been displacing other people and cultures that predated them.

According to N.H. Commission for Human Rights protocol, complaints that are filed are assigned to an investigator who will look into the charge, and decide whether there is probable cause. The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rufo says his hope in filing the complaint is that the name change will be reversed.

“I hope they will come to their senses,” Rufo said.

Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said that since the motion was passed by the school board earlier this week, the district has no plans to reconsider the decision to change the name. The school board’s City and Community Relations Committee will discuss the change with Concord City Council on Oct. 16, but Murphy said it will mostly be an update, to share with the city council the decision that has already been made.

“That motion was accepted, and so we move forward to make the appropriate corrections to any documents,” Murphy said. “They felt pretty strongly about making that change, and they made that decision.”

The school district’s online calendar already reflects the change for the Monday holiday.

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