Above photo: Boston Indigenous Peoples Day, lead contingent marching to the Massachusetts State House, Oct. 8, 2022. Howard Rotman.
United American Indians of New England (UAINE), the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) and other organizations have called for a march and rally on Oct. 7 to demand that the Massachusetts legislature forever replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
This decades-long struggle of Indigenous peoples in Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims carried out “first encounter” land thefts and genocide, aims to overturn centuries of entrenched racist mythology wrapped up in the triumphalist federal holiday known as Columbus Day.
The 2017 murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the hands of fascists, and the police lynching of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, sparked a national wave of actions targeting racist icons, including Christopher Columbus.
On June 10, 2020, a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston’s North End was beheaded, and statues in Richmond, Virginia, and St. Paul, Minnesota, were similarly targeted. Indigenous organizers succeeded in winning Indigenous Peoples Day declarations in cities and states coast to coast, but not in Boston, where a 1675 law banning Native Americans from entering the city remained on the books until 2004.
Past time to replace colonial myths
UAINE and NAICOB witnessed the signing of an executive order replacing Columbus Day in Boston with Indigenous Peoples Day in 2021. “Observing Indigenous Peoples Day is about replacing the colonial myths passed down from generation to generation with the true history of the land upon which our nation was founded,” said Mayor Kim Janey, Boston’s first woman and first Black mayor. Unfortunately, in 2022, incoming Democratic Mayor Michelle Wu bent to political pressure from racists and declared the day “Italian Heritage Day” alongside Indigenous Peoples Day.
Intransigent Massachusetts legislators continue to defend the Columbus myth, holding IPD bills in committee year after year, despite persistent efforts by the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda and thousands of supporters across the state to get the bills passed. The state flag, which depicts a white arm brandishing a sword above an Indigenous man’s head, still flies three years after the legislature voted to change it.
Mahtowin Munro (Lakota), co-leader of UAINE and lead organizer for Indigenous Peoples Day Massachusetts, said: “We call on the Massachusetts State Legislature to step up now and pass our statewide Indigenous Peoples Day bill and our other legislation currently before them, including bills to ban Native American team mascots, to provide for Indigenous curriculum content in the public schools, to protect sacred Native American heritage and to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students.” (IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org)
Indigenous Peoples Day action targets Faneuil Hall
For many years, Indigenous Peoples Day supporters have joined Rev. Kevin Peterson and The New Democracy Coalition in their movement to rename Faneuil Hall, one of Boston’s most popular tourist traps. Faneuil Hall’s namesake, Peter Faneuil, was one of Boston’s wealthiest settler capitalists who perfected for profit the buying and selling of enslaved Black and Indigenous persons.
Many in Boston’s Black and Indigenous communities have joined Rev. Peterson in speaking out and protesting at the very site where Faneuil conducted his despicable auctions of hundreds of enslaved children, women and men. This year’s Indigenous Peoples Day march plans to again encircle and rally at the site, typically thronged with thousands of tourists, before marching to the waterfront Christopher Columbus Park to demand an immediate name change there as well.
Munro said: “In a city and country that largely erases Indigenous people, Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to learn about and celebrate Indigenous history and contemporary Indigenous peoples and cultures. It should be only a first step for Boston to begin to build relationships with Indigenous people and begin to address the many injustices faced by us here and elsewhere. It is time for us to stop being ignored and erased.”