In recent years, cities and states in the United States have decided to name Columbus Day after the federally designated October holiday as Indigenous Day. The idea is to support Aborigines in general, but to acknowledge the fact that Native Americans called the land home long before European explorers claimed it.
But the issue of naming has aroused strong feelings on both sides. And a few more celebrities are celebrating Columbus Day, October 11 this year, as it is.
Count Portsmouth, NH among them. In June, the City Council of Berg, New England – with a population of approximately 22,000 – narrowly rejected a proposal to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day together.
Local resident Sue Polydura, a Republican who ran a failed campaign for the New Hampshire state Senate, was among those who spoke out in support of her right to give up Columbus Day.
“I’m against renaming things that have been around for a long time,” Polidura told MarketWatch. “You can respect tribals whenever you wish.”
The locals who were in favor of recognizing Indigenous Day were equally steadfast even though their efforts failed in the end.
“History has made it clear that the colonization of Columbus and the Americans has plunged the Aborigines into various hardships from which they are still struggling to escape,” Harini Subramaniam, a high school student, told Portsmouth City Council a few months ago.
Portsmouth Mayor Rick Beckstead, who voted against recognizing Indigenous Day among council members, did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment.
The movement to recognize Indigenous Day is, of course, growing. In 2021, several cities joined the day’s honors list, including newcomers, including Boston, Tempe, Ariz, and West Lafayette, India.
Recognition of Indigenous Day now extends to the White House, where President Joe Biden recently issued a declaration honoring “the resilience and strength of indigenous peoples.” The president also issued a declaration recognizing Columbus Day, which still retains its federal status.
Opposition to changing the name of the holiday has sometimes come from Italian-American groups who see Columbus Day as a way to honor their heritage, as St. Patrick’s Day has become a celebration of Irish everything.
The contribution of Italian-Americans was an issue cited by Nicholas Isgro of Waterville, Maine, when he issued an announcement in 2019 that his October vacation would hold his Columbus Monica. In doing so, Isgro was denying the state the recognition of Indigenous Day that year.
Isgro, who declined Marketwatch’s request for comment, said he no longer serves as Waterville mayor, he decided not to run for re-election. According to a spokesman, the city has now recognized Indigenous Day.
Some locals try it both ways. While New York State continues to recognize Columbus Day – former Governor Andrew Cuomo said any name change would “insult or diminish Italian-American contributions” in the United States – New York City’s school system has become an October 11 hybrid holiday (and day off). The day is recognized in the school calendar as “Italian Itihas Day / Indigenous Day”.
The reason for the name change is simple, he said: “Columbus did not discover America. We were here first.”