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Orono town council votes to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The Orono City Council voted this week to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, Sept. 11. The vote was unanimous, making Orono the third place in Maine to make this change.

This decision follows in the footsteps of the city of Bangor, where this decision was made on Aug. 28. The day will be observed to remember Native Americans and their contributions. In 2015, Belfast was the first town in Maine to make this change.

The council meeting opened the floor for a discussion, where many addressed their comments and concerns. The talk lasted for about an hour, according to the Bangor Daily News (BDN).

“I’m here to say that I’m not here to wish to erase history, nor do I wish to replace history. What I’m here seeking is for the truth to be told, that the history of our nation be respectful of those of us who were here long, long before the man you have honored in the past for ‘discovering’ our lands,” June Sapiel, a member of Penobscot Nation, told the BDN.

Columbus Day traces back to 1937, when it was first celebrated. The day marks the anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in America back on Oct. 12, 1492. In the United States, the day is observed on the second Monday of October. For some, it is a free day off from school, but for others, it is an insult.

Many view Columbus as a fraud. While he is often viewed as discovering America, it is overlooked that he murdered and enslaved many, and was a brutal leader to the areas that he governed.

Over the years, people have turned their frustrations to social media to start the conversation about why this day should celebrate indigenous people instead of Columbus. For instance, @ShelbyKentStewa tweeted, “I’m celebrating #ColumbusDay by walking into a stranger’s home and claiming it as my own. Housewarming party to be announced.”

At the Orono town council meeting, there were a few people who disagreed with the proposal. Included in the opposition was Dan LaPointe, who told the BDN, “Political correctness must not displace our American history. This is very serious. If we went through every single dirty thing that existed and wiped out that history, we would never learn from these truths. We must not whitewash our history.”

The proposal to change this federal holiday was brought forward by Norma Mallory, who collected around 150 signatures and presented a letter to the council. According to the BDN, the letter included the following, “This is a step forward in acknowledging and honoring the first people of this land. It is also a step in formatting collaborative and caring connections so that together, we can begin to heal and grow toward building truth and trust. In this time of racism and chaos, it demonstrates that here in our community, we believe in justice, compassion, and equity for all. This would be consistent with the kind and egalitarian legacy of Chief Joseph Orono, for whom our town was named.”

While this ordinance was passed, it will take effect 30 days from the date that the decision was made, meaning that this year, this day will still be observed as Columbus Day as the 30 days end on Oct. 11.

Columbus Day will be observed on Oct. 9.

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