The Bangor City Council on Monday night voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of every October — a day the federal government has designated to honor Christopher Columbus.
Bangor follows a growing number of cities and states that have decided to shift the focus from Columbus to the people who lived here before the arrival of European explorers and colonists.
Belfast was the first Maine city to take that step in 2015.
The city council’s resolve, which was approved in a unanimous vote, came at the request from members of the Penobscot Nation, whose Tribal Council member Maulian Dana Smith led the effort. She worked with Councilor Sarah Nichols, who brought it forward to the full council.
Supporters of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Maine and other parts of the nation have said that honoring Columbus on the second Monday in October essentially glorifies colonization, racism and genocide.
No one spoke in opposition of declaring a day to celebrate Native Americans at Monday’s meeting.
“I think it’s a very symbolic but impactful gesture to make this change and to recognize indigenous people I can only see positive things coming from it,” Smith said.
“When we take a traumatic event in history and transform it into a chance for healing and enriching gaps between our communities is a powerful thing,” she said.
Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis thanked city officials for taking the step.
“Really what we’re really saying here is we have a thick, rich history here together on this river,” he said of the tribe’s namesake river along which Bangor sits.
Councilor Ben Sprague said the newly minted holiday offered opportunities for the region’s cultural groups to learn from one another.
“I had ancestors on the Mayflower and that’s actually something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in and when I learned about Columbus Day growing up, I learned about the audacity of humans striving toward new places,” he said.
“As you get older, you learn and you realize that there’s more to what you’re taught in classes in school. We should talk about that together and [about] the interaction and the contact between cultures and how that has played out over time,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that Columbus Day remains a federal holiday.