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Roughly a month after the public voted in favor of a non-binding referendum to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, the Wellesley Select Board declared by a 4-1 vote that the second Monday in October would now honor Indigenous Peoples in town.
The Board’s discussion and vote followed comments by more than a dozen citizens, some familiar public commenters on this topic, others not. Most spoke against the change.
Campaigns for and against the change have made for plenty of political drama in Wellesley over the past few years, complete with lawn sign stealing and many letters to the editor. The Unite Wellesley group argued for celebrating Italian heritage on the second Monday in October and honoring Indigenous People on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Those in favor of replacing Columbus Day have denounced the actions of Christopher Columbus and called for recognizing native people.
During Monday’s Board meeting, among the citizen speakers was 10-year resident Kenneth Largess, who said Columbus Day has always been a day of pride for his large extended Italian family. He compared it to St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish. “This attempt to cancel Columbus Day in a town in which over 30% of the population claims some Italian heritage is only going to further divide us at a time when we should all be trying to become unified,” he said, urging the board to show “courage” in not jumping aboard the cancel culture train.
Speaking in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day was Nova Biro, who read a World of Wellesley statement that included: “Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day on all town calendars will reinforce the Select Board’s recent Statement on Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias, will begin to remedy the harmful effects of racist policies, and will begin to acknowledge the contributions and ongoing presence of Indigenous People in our community.”
Beth Sullivan Woods opened the discussion among Board members by saying “I’ve lived here my whole life and I find this to be such a sad, sad day for us.” She described the issue as being “divisive” and “polarizing,” and questioned whether the matter of addressing a state holiday was really within the Board’s purview. Sullivan Woods, who voted against the change, urged her fellow Board members to hit the pause button on this subject and figure out a better path forward.
Board Member Lise Olney, who joined the rest of the Board in voting for the change, said “I believe it’s time to honor the request of Indigenous People that we not only recognize their place in history but also that we no longer choose not to honor and celebrate the man, Christopher Columbus…” Olney said she’s come to learn over the years that Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples “is a painful reminder of 500 years of oppression by European settlers.”
Board Chair Tom Ulfelder, who didn’t vote in favor of this change at Town Meeting, said he’s “deeply concerned about the impact on Italian Americans in Wellesley, and others are very concerned about multiculturalism generally.” Ulfelder said he’d prefer to see “a negotiated outcome,” but that he can’t ignore the democratic process that took place.
Town Meeting voted in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day in summer of 2020, after a citizen petition advocating for Indigenous Peoples Day was withdrawn from Town Meeting the previous year. That 2020 vote led to the non-binding referendum vote by the public in March (49% of voters said “yes, “43% said “no,” and 8% left ballots blank), and ultimately Monday night’s Select Board vote.
Wellesley joins Arlington, Newton and other Massachusetts communities, as well as more than a dozen states, that now recognize Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. Columbus Day remains a federal and Massachusetts state holiday.
Wellesley voters had their say on March 2 about a non-binding referendum asking the Select Board to proclaim the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day and cease to recognize Columbus Day in Wellesley. Some 49% of voters said “yes, “43% said “no,” and 8% left ballots blank on the question.
The Select Board will discuss the resolution at its regular meeting on Monday, April 5 at 6:30 p.m., and residents are welcome to weigh in via email in advance (email [email protected] to reach all five Board members) or during the meeting. To comment during the meeting, send email to [email protected] and indicate you would like to speak during the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting. You will receive a return email with a call-in number and your speaker order.
Incumbent Colette Aufranc retains her Select Board seat and Ann-Mara Lanza joins the board based on election results released by the Wellesley Town Clerk’s office. Aufranc this past September joined the board by winning a special election to replace a member who moved out of town.
Update (3/5/21): Here are final election results for townwide offices and ballot question, as well as for town meeting members. We’ve updated this post and the embedded documents, too, which originally were unofficial preliminary election results.
Just over a quarter of Wellesley’s active voters cast ballots either by mail or in person to culminate a tense election season.
Odessa Sanchez, who lost her bid for one of the two open Select Board seats, tallied the most votes for one of the two Wellesley Housing Authority five-year terms up for grabs. Incumbent Janice Coduri earned the votes for the other open seat. Micah O’Neil finished third.
In the other contested race, Scott Bender remains on the Board of Public Works, securing a three-year term.
On the non-binding referendum regarding the replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wellesley, some 49% of voters said Yes, 43% No, and 8% left the box blank. Six of eight precincts voted Yes.
The Committee for Indigenous Peoples Day issued this statement following the results being made public: “The preliminary results are in, and you did it! Your voice and your vote sent a clear message on election day, that the town of Wellesley stands in solidarity and support for Indigenous Peoples in our community and beyond. When we asked for your endorsements you put a name to your vote. When we called for volunteers you showed up. When we were out in the streets you honked, applauded, and brought us Dunkin! For all this and more we are forever grateful.”
The Committee to Preserve Wellesley’s Italian American Heritage had campaigned to defeat the non-binding ballot question, arguing that the second Monday in October should celebrate Italian American heritage, wth Indigenous People being honored in November.
The organization issued a statement after the results were made public: “We thank all of our supporters! Close to two thousand voices spoke up in favor of unity, inclusion, and tolerance and should not be silenced. Send your letters and make your phone calls to the Select Board, asking them to honor the Town’s Tolerance Pledge. Every culture should feel welcome in Wellesley. Honor Italian American heritage and, by extension, all immigrants on the second Monday in October, and honor Indigenous Peoples during the month of November.”
(Question #1: “Should the Select Board, with the understanding that since 1977 Indigenous people of our country have requested Indigenous Peoples Day as a recognition of their humanity, culture, and history and further, that our country was built on Native lands, proclaim the second Monday of October henceforth be commemorated as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and cease to recognize Columbus Day in Wellesley in recognition of the position of Indigenous Peoples as natives to these lands, and the suffering they faced during and after the European conquest? This question is not binding.”)
Thanks to all who ran, campaigned, and voted.
Correction (3/3/21): We’ve updated the voting %s on the ballot question from an earlier miscalculation that didn’t take blank votes into consideration. Sorry for the error.
On March 2nd, Wellesley voters will be asked to vote on Question #1, which proposes to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Here are good fact-based reasons why we think you should vote NO on Question #1.
Indigenous Peoples have been rightly calling for a day of recognition and atonement. President Barack Obama answered their call in 2009 by permanently establishing national Native American Heritage Day, a civil holiday, on the Friday after Thanksgiving. With this holiday in place, we have the opportunity to visit the mistakes of the past as a community by acknowledging those mistakes and building a more comprehensive history that incorporates more voices moving forward.
Wellesley can celebrate both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day. Columbus Day was established to celebrate Italian-American heritage and was a response to the racist lynching of 11 innocent Italian men by an angry mob in New Orleans in 1891—the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. It was also intended to suppress rampant anti-Catholicism and the repression of Italian and Irish immigrants.
Columbus was not a murderer, enslaver, nor a proponent of harming Indigenous Peoples. There is great scholarship on this point from the late Harvard Professor Samuel Eliot Morison (Ph.D. Harvard) and Stanford Professor Emerita Carol Delaney (Ph.D. University of Chicago) to start. Tagging Columbus with a list of atrocities including “the destruction of indigenous cultures” is misguided. Columbus never set foot on the land that became the United States.
Canceling Columbus Day is anti-Italian. It cancels the celebration of a heritage because of the misrepresentation of its namesake, willfully ignoring its underlying purpose. Martin Luther King Day is celebrated by African Americans, St. Patrick’s Day by Irish Americans, Cinque de Mayo by Mexican Americans, and Lunar New Year by Chinese Americans.
Today, Columbus Day also speaks to immigration, diversity, and multiculturalism. Columbus opened the New World to immigration and to all of us being here in Wellesley today. Voting no on Question #1 will allow for a two-day celebration that will honor and respect all cultures in Wellesley.
Chair, Committee to Preserve Wellesley’s Italian American History
Paine Street, Wellesley, MA
What we have discovered during our campaign is that you don’t have to be Italian to support Columbus Day.
Many immigrants and descendants of recent immigrants identify with Columbus Day because Columbus opened the Americas to immigration and the opportunity for a new life. Early in our campaign, we received a donation from a recent immigrant to the US, a landscaper mowing lawns on Linden Street, who saw one of our signs and wrote, “Thank you for doing this!” This is how Columbus should be remembered today—as the father of American immigration.
I am concerned about articles that denounce Columbus and wish to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. I have no problem with the latter but it should be a different day, preferably a day chosen by them. Most people know little about Columbus and are blaming him for things he did not do.