Wellesley forum: Columbus Day vs. Indigenous Peoples Day

The Wellesley Board of Selectmen will hold a public forum at the start of its regularly scheduled April 29 meeting at 7pm in Town Hall to begin consideration of a request from the World of Wellesley (WOW) organization to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in town.

A WOW petition to make such a change reads: “Our Indigenous friends and neighbors consider changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day as an important first step toward acknowledging the genocide of millions of their ancestors and the theft of their homelands, that began with the arrival of Columbus, as well as a recognition of Columbus’ role in the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of African people. It is a meaningful symbolic gesture to begin addressing the pain caused to Native Peoples by the many years of celebrating Columbus as a hero.”

WOW reps will state their case at the forum, and the public will be invited to share its views as well. The Board of Selectmen (BOS) will reflect on information shared at the forum and will determine next steps from there.

A citizens petition to change the October holiday was withdrawn in March from annual Town Meeting. The Advisory Committee had voted 4-3 in favor of the change, but following BOS discussion, member Marjorie Freiman encouraged WOW to withdraw the petition and work with the town to foster more discussion before any decision is made.

Beyond Wellesley

Across the country according to Pew Research, “Columbus Day is one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays. It’s one of 10 official federal holidays, which means federal workers get the day off. And because federal offices will be closed, so will most banks and the bond markets that trade in U.S. government debt (though the stock markets will remain open).”

In New England, the state governments of Massachusetts and Connecticut give their workers Columbus Day as a paid holiday. New Hampshire government offices are open but public schools close for the day. The state of Vermont has officially recognized the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, but the day is treated as just a regular old weekday, with government offices open and public schools in session. Maine is on the cusp of ditching Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day. In all, according to the Council of State Governments’ Book of the States, only 23 states (plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa and Puerto Rico) give their employees the day off with pay.

Four states celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day — Alaska, Minnesota, Vermont, and South Dakota (which calls it Native American Day). Nevada celebrates indigenous people on a different day than Columbus Day, which was last recognized as a State holiday in 1992.

Framingham’s School Committee has combined the two days into one on its school calendar.

The Wellesley Board of Selectmen’s office can be contacted for any questions about the upcoming forum at sel@wellesleyma.gov