Holyoke drops Christopher Columbus for Indigenous Peoples Day

  • Holyoke City Hall, as seen from Holyoke Heritage State Park, on Wednesday, April 28. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2021 7:45:50 PM

HOLYOKE — Holyoke has become the latest local community to ditch Christopher Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.

In a 10 to 3 vote Tuesday night, the City Council voted in favor of the change, which communities across the country are making in recognition of Columbus’ role in the genocide and enslavement of Indigenous people in the Americas. In particular, Columbus played a direct role in killing and imprisoning the Taíno people, who populated the Greater Antilles islands of the Caribbean, including what later became known as Puerto Rico.

“They would make fine servants,” Columbus wrote in his log at the time. “With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Holyoke is a city where a majority of residents identify themselves as Puerto Rican. Ward 4 Councilor Libby Hernandez, who sponsored the resolution and is herself Puerto Rican, said the vote was one way to honor Indigenous peoples, including those subjected to the cruelty of Columbus and his men.

“And honor ourselves as the descendants of that population that suffered so much,” she said.

After the vote, Hernandez — who was one of several councilors attending the meeting virtually — said she briefly shut off her video camera to collect herself. “I was so emotional,” she said.

Voting against the resolution were Ward 3 Councilor David Bartley, At-Large Councilor Howard Greaney and Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon.

In making the switch to Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October, Holyoke joins communities including Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst that have adopted similar resolutions. In October, Holyoke Public Schools celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day for the first time.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, several Holyokers and Indigenous Massachusetts residents spoke in favor of the resolution, which had been stalled for several years in the Public Service Committee.

“I was appalled as an Italian American that Columbus was being used to represent my people,” said Elizabeth Caretti Ramirez, an Italian American resident of the city. “He was a pretty terrible guy. He started the Atlantic slave trade; he was somebody who committed genocide, he took in slaves, he let people rape native women.”

Chali’Naru Dones, a Taíno woman from Newton, also spoke before City Council.

“All the things he’s done to our people,” Dones said of Columbus. “We need to make this change, not for us but for our future.”

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