Why focus on Indigenous Peoples Day?

“Out of all the things World of Wellesley could be focusing on, why support a citizen’s petition to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Wellesley?” I’ve been asked this question more than once over the past nine months. The most meaningful and important answer is because Indigenous People have been calling for an end to the celebration of Columbus since 1977. As stated on http://IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org, “Indigenous Peoples Day is about more than a name change; it’s a refusal to allow the genocide of millions of Indigenous peoples to go unnoticed and a demand for recognition of Indigenous humanity. Recognizing this day in place of what’s currently known as ‘Columbus Day’ is a way to correct false histories, honor Indigenous peoples and begin to correct some of the countless wrongs committed against Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (what’s now known as the Americas).”

Wellesley heard this sentiment echoed from Annie Hodge, a seventh-grader at Wellesley Middle School, who wrote an editorial for the Townsman on Nov. 11, 2018:

“When we celebrate Columbus Day, we celebrate greed, lies, slavery and killing. I see Wellesley as a kind community that works together. Columbus was the opposite of kind. Wellesley should celebrate the indigenous people who were here first: the Wampanoag and Massachusett tribes.”

Annie’s statements grabbed me as the current president of World of Wellesley, a community nonprofit organization, who for almost 30 years has been dedicated to making Wellesley a welcoming place for everyone. Our board of directors contemplated, can the World of Wellesley, located on the traditional territory of the Massachusett people, truly be welcoming and more so the kind community, that Annie envisions, without acknowledging this history and honoring Indigenous Peoples? This question filled our board meeting with anxious dialogue and a stark realization, that we could not.

There are many people in our community and maybe you, who don’t know much about Columbus and could only recite a rhyme. Much of what we have been told is from a biographical story created by Washington Irving in 1828, which has been proven mostly false. The genocide of Indigenous Peoples in this country has been erased and just like many horrific acts of terrorism that happen in this country, we must never forget. In this case, we may have to learn it first. Annie Hodge learned it in the seventh grade at Wellesley Middle School, where the curriculum includes a complex history of many voices and the understanding that Columbus’ arrival set off a chain of events that led to the demise of many Native American people as well as their enslavement.

Our children deserve to live in a town that lives its values, not just states them in our colorful handouts, logos and mission statements. This inclusive and human act of honoring Indigenous Peoples in our community is so much bigger than a name change and we will never be able to see that if we aren’t willing to learn what we don’t know, we don’t know and change.

World of Wellesley is an organization that was created because a group of concerned citizens believed a human rights commission should be established. Their request was denied by the town and this lead to the founding of World of Wellesley in 1990. Here we are 30 years later and once again Wellesley citizens, together with the World of Wellesley, will be requesting the human rights of Indigenous Peoples to be acknowledged and honored in Wellesley. We will do this in solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters and as we continue to strive to make Wellesley a welcoming place for everyone.

If this moves you to act, please join us in sharing your voice with your local Town Meeting member in support of the Citizens Petition that will request the town of Wellesley rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The warrant will be available in the winter but we can always begin a conversation with our neighbors and elected officials now.

Michelle Chalmers
President, World of Wellesley

Reprinted with permission from The Wellesley Townsman. This letter to the editor was originally published on October 17, 2019.

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