Orono is considering replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, joining a growing number of locales that are shifting the focus away from Christopher Columbus.
The move follows in the footsteps of Bangor, which approved a similar change last week, and Belfast, which in 2015 became the first Maine city to take the step to honor native Americans.
Orono is holding a hearing Monday to get public input after Orono resident, Norma “Emma” Mallory brought the proposal forward, said Town Manager Sophie Wilson.
If adopted, the federal holiday would remain a paid day off for town employees, Wilson said.
“The proposed revision would simply rename the holiday that staff is celebrating on the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Wilson said. “The schools, private businesses, churches, non-profits, UMaine, and individuals would not be affected by this, if council were to adopt the ordinance revision.”
The Bangor City Council voted unanimously on Aug. 29 to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of every October, which the federal government has designated to honor Columbus.
Penobscot John Bear Mitchell, a lecturer in Wabanaki Studies at the University of Maine in Orono, said the time has come to correct history.
“Columbus had nothing to do with the discovery of North America,” Mitchell said. “Because of this, we are actually writing the history as it exactly was.”
In 1992, Berkeley, California, was the first U.S. community to shift the focus from Columbus to the people who lived here before the arrival of European explorers and colonists.
A growing number of cities and states, including Vermont, have followed suit.
Two days after Bangor voted unanimously to make the change, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to eliminate Columbus Day from its city calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to the L.A. Times, which reported the panel sided with Native American activists who view the explorer as a symbol of genocide for native peoples in North America and elsewhere.
The Orono Town Council’s public hearing on the proposed change will be held on Monday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m.