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Maulian Dana is the Penobscot Nation tribal ambassador and president of the board of the Wabanaki Alliance.
The Maine Legislature made the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in 2019 after a coordinated effort with lawmakers, tribal leaders, tribal citizens and allies. Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill into law and we celebrated in the spirit of unity and hope for our relationship and future.
It is a huge step to acknowledge this day and, while we have not smoothed out all the rough edges between the tribes and the state, we remain deeply honored that Maine had the courage to make this change.
In the years leading up to the statewide change, many cities and towns around Maine made the change at a local level and this day also serves as a time to reflect on those relationships that we built and seeds we planted.
Christopher Columbus was an explorer who made important contributions to the world. He was also a barbaric killer and torturer of Indigenous people. The accounts of the terror that he and his crew inflicted upon the tribes he encountered are gruesome even for the time period he lived in. His ideations that the Indigenous people were less than human and ultimately should be destroyed are at the core of the genocidal mindset that ravaged our nations.
Many of the explorers, settlers, and colonists that followed him in history subscribed to the same commitment to total warfare against Indigenous people. This warfare included the decimation of populations through the intentional infliction of diseases and bounties on scalps and bodies, and it was also a large and systematic taking of land and resources.
Celebrating Columbus sends a message to modern-day descendants of those Indigenous ancestors that their demise is worth having a holiday for. That their killers are heroes. That the country was better off for their unimaginable suffering. That they didn’t matter even though their bravery and sacrifices lead to our tribal nations today being in existence and having strong ties to our culture and values. “Columbus Day” means that the society around us wishes us the same fate as the tragic era generations ago. We are so thankful that it has changed.
As we celebrate our second official Indigenous Peoples Day in Maine, we can keep the discussions and the truth telling going. America is having a reckoning with race. The time for change has come and so much of that change begins with how we see one another. If we are working from a place of equity, respect, humanity, and acceptance, then there is less room for fear, hatred, and prejudice. As people of color, we see the consequences of attitudes and behaviors every day and they manifest themselves in racism and violence.
It is time to shift the narrative of this holiday from glorifying genocide to honoring the true stewards of these lands and waters since time immemorial. We are not rewriting history, we are embracing the real history. There are so many errors in how we perceive Columbus that many Americans don’t even know that he didn’t even step foot in North America. They also don’t know the perpetual harm done to Indigenous People when we see and hear “Columbus Day.”
I encourage all of you to take this day as an opportunity to learn about the Indigenous People in your area. Maine is all ancestral homeland of the tribes, many of which you have not even heard of because of the genocide and displacement. Teach yourselves and your loved ones about compassion, the power of symbols and words and how we can help one another heal and grow.
Indigenous Peoples Day is about reconciling a messy and painful past but also about walking forward together in a peace that only comes from honesty and truth. I wish for that peace for us all. And on behalf of the Penobscot Nation and the Wabanaki Alliance, I wish you all a happy Indigenous Peoples Day.