The city of Boston had its last Columbus Day.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey on Wednesday afternoon signed an executive order to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, effective Monday October 11.
“It’s a small step in a long journey around justice in our city,” Janey told reporters after signing the order at Boston City Hall.
Boston joins more than two dozen communities in Massachusetts – including the neighboring municipalities of Brookline, Cambridge, Newton and Somerville – and a handful of states, like Vermont and Maine, which celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.
In her prepared remarks, Janey noted that the city has played an important role in the history of the United States, from the American Revolution to the abolitionist movement to become “a training ground for modern civil rights leaders.”
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However, she also noted that Boston – which sits on land once primarily inhabited by Native American tribes, including the Massachusett, Wampanoag, and Nipmuc peoples – has a “complicated history” that includes “the displacement and oppression of peoples. natives, who have lived here for thousands of years. “
“Our common history in the city is marred by colonial violence and systemic exclusion,” Janey said. “As current residents of this land, the City of Boston has the opportunity and obligation to honor the cultures, experiences and achievements of Indigenous peoples.”
Columbus Day remains recognized as a statutory holiday at the state and federal levels.
While efforts to replace the holidays with Indigenous Peoples Day have long been going on, Janey’s decree on Wednesday came as a somewhat sudden surprise. The city held no public hearing on the change beforehand, and the order was only announced as part of Janey’s public program on Tuesday night.
Former mayor Marty Walsh had resisted the push, though he decided to relocate and replace a statue of Christopher Columbus in the North End after it was vandalized last summer.
Some local Italian Americans have joined the push to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, citing documents about the Italian explorer’s involvement in the brutality and sex trafficking of indigenous peoples. However, the effort has also faced strong resistance from groups like the Italian-American Alliance, who say they are “discriminated against”.
Columbus Day was first recognized nationally in 1892 – the 400th anniversary of his first trip to North America – following the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans, and later legally consecrated as annual holiday in 1934 following a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus fraternal group.
Janey’s signing ceremony on Wednesday was briefly interrupted by a woman who shouted the change was leaving Italo-Americans behind.
“Italian Americans have a rich history in the city of Boston and certainly in our country,” replied Janey. “We should celebrate all cultures, and I want to remind everyone here: Justice is not a zero-sum game. We can elevate the experiences of indigenous peoples, and we can also respect Italian Americans. “
In addition to internal conversations with local indigenous leaders, Janey said she had spoken to representatives of the Italian community, “particularly in the North End”, as part of the “hard work” of engaging the neighbors on the subject.
Janey also urged the people of Boston to take “meaningful steps to defend the rights of indigenous communities.”
“Signing a decree is easy,” she said. “What is incumbent on all of us is to take the necessary steps to understand our complicated history to ensure that we uplift those who have been marginalized for too long and create space for us all to enjoy the city of. Boston.
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