The Waterville City Council will decide Tuesday night on a resolution that, if passed, would recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, a move that comes two weeks after the city’s mayor issued a controversial Columbus Day proclamation.
The Waterville Morning Sentinel reports that the resolution, proposed by Councilors Mike Morris and Jay Coelho, calls on the city to “recognize the titles of all holidays as determined by the state.”
Maine joined a growing number of states — including New Mexico and Vermont — in April when Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, signed into law a bill that dropped the state’s recognition of the federal holiday in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.
That followed a movement among Maine communities, starting in Belfast in 2015, to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as activists worked to shift perception of Columbus, whose arrival in the Americas ushered in centuries of subjugation, enslavement and genocide against the continent’s original inhabitants.
Earlier this month, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, a Republican, found himself embroiled in a bitter controversy when he issued a proclamation declaring Oct. 14 as Columbus Day.
The proclamation, quoting President Benjamin Harrison, lauded Christopher Columbus as a “pioneer of progress and enlightenment,” whose arrival in the Americas in 1492 prompted the migration of millions of Europeans, who “brought their art, music, science, medicine, philosophy and religious principles to America.”
“The accomplishments of Columbus through his courage and willingness to take unknown risks in exchange for discovery, knowledge, and greatness has trickled down through each generation of Americans, from the early pioneer settlers to the exploration of the vast universe beyond our atmosphere,” the proclamation read.
At the Oct. 1 council meeting where Isgro read his proclamation, Isgro drew a mixture of criticism and support from the audience. Exchanges became heated at times, and Isgro at one point threatened to have the police chief eject people from the meeting if they spoke without being recognized.
Opponents called it a “malevolent erasure of a long and violent history of genocide and abuse of indigenous people,” while supporters likened the move to no longer recognize Columbus Day to the Islamic State group’s destruction of cultural artifacts in Syria.
But Morris and Coelho told the Sentinel that the resolution is unrelated to Isgro’s proclamation, but to alleviate confusion among residents by aligning how the city recognizes holidays with the state.
Coelho added that he feels mayoral proclamations should not be issued about “anything political or controversial,” but rather to recognize achievements or raise awareness about something.
Columbus’ first trans-Atlantic voyage in 1492 was sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Columbus would make three additional ocean crossings to the Americas, in 1493, 1498 and 1502. Columbus served for a time as governor of Hispaniola, but that came to an end in 1500 when he was led back to Spain in chains after complaints from colonists about mismanagement and brutality prompted the visit of a royal commissioner. He was freed on order of Ferdinand and Isabella, who later financed his 1502 expedition.