Easthampton Council adopts Indigenous Peoples Day

  • JERREY ROBERTSEasthampton Municipal Building, 50 Payson Avenue GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2021 7:42:49 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Going forward, the city will recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day, following a vote by City Council to adopt the holiday in place of Columbus Day.

The change received unanimous, enthusiastic support from city councilors and members of the public, including members of several Native American tribes who also attended the meeting to call for the change.

The resolution was brought to the council by Councilors Salem Derby, who is a member of the Wampanoag tribe, and Owen Zaret. The councilors said they spoke with several tribes, including the Nipmuc Nation and Massachusett and Wampanoag tribes, throughout the process.

Brittney Little Leaf Walley, a member of the Nipmuc Nation, called the shift to Indigenous Peoples Day “a much-needed change.”

“This oversimplified history” commonly told about Columbus as the European who “discovered” the New World in 1492 “is harmful to all and difficult to resolve,” she said, and changing the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day creates an opportunity for Easthampton to begin amending this approach to history.

“In my Nipmuc community, we feel the pain of our sister communities that were harmed by Columbus,” she said, “and we do feel the weight of his acts despite him not being our specific colonizer.”

Chali’lnaru Smilez Dones of the Taíno contingent also voiced her support for the change. The Taíno were the first people Columbus encountered when he landed in the Caribbean, and within decades, Columbus and his men devastated and killed most of the Taíno through violence, disease and enslavement. Today, many people in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba are descendants of the Taíno.

“The heinous acts and the atrocities (Columbus) committed on our people should not be celebrated, honored,” Smilez Dones said. “It’s disrespect. It’s horrible. At this time this man should be forgotten; he should be wiped out.”

Changing Columbus Day is “just one step of a long journey,” said City Councilor Homar Gomez. “We have to teach the real history and what happened in the Caribbean.”

School Superintendent Allison LeClair wrote a letter voicing her “full support” for the change, which a councilor read at the meeting.

In Hampshire County, the city follows Northampton and Amherst — the state’s first and second communities, respectively, to officially make the shift in 2016 — in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

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