The Newton Programs and Services Committee has decided to support a resolution to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day after Newton residents spoke at a hearing on Oct. 8.
“I originally had been opposed to the public hearing,” said Councilor Joshua Krintzman. “But I am actually very glad we did it. I thought we heard some really impressive and enlightening testimony tonight.”
Indigenous people spoke on the item during the public hearing, detailing the history of Newton and the sentiments shared among the population in regards to Christopher Columbus.
“Our tribal members were removed from their ancestral land so that you can have your town,” said Faries Gray, war chief of the Massachusetts tribe. “So, I think you should listen to what we have to say about Indigenous Peoples’ Day versus Columbus Day.”
“This all goes back to the denial of the right to be who we are, the denial of the right to exist, the erasure of our very identity and we have to look at that somebody who’s being honored and celebrated for killing the very people we come from,” said Larry Spotted Crow Mann of the Nipmuc Tribe.
The motion to move forward with the proposal to the full Council on Oct. 8 was voted 6-0-1, the one abstaining vote from Councilor Maria Scibelli Greenberg.
“I grew up in Springfield, where we had a parade [on Columbus Day]. We had a big celebration for Italian Americans. It was a day full of pride, not for the man but for our culture,” Greenberg said. “So that’s why I’m having a hard time and I wish we could have come to the table and had a better discussion and compromise.”
The proposal was previously discussed on Sept. 16 at the Programs and Services Committee. The item passed 7-0-1: seven in favor, none opposed, and one abstention. From the committee vote, the proposal for the ordinance change went to Council. There was an amendment to put off the vote until a public hearing was held.
The item will be on the agenda for the full City Council meeting on Oct. 19. In the meantime, cCouncilors will have opportunities to file amendments or change the underlying item as it comes to the floor of the City Council.
Teachers from Newton Public Schools voiced their support for the resolution.
“As a third-grade teacher, I can’t possibly feel good about teaching my students to be kind and allies while continuing to allow Columbus Day to be celebrated,” said Emily Restivo, an Italian-American third-grade teacher at Countryside School.
Several grade-school students from Newton Public Schools spoke about the importance of learning the truth about Christopher Columbus and the impact he had on indigenous communities.
“I stand here as a 12-year-old boy who doesn’t have the years or perhaps even knowledge of history at all,” said Kingston Mills, seventh grader at Brown Middle School. “What I do have is the knowledge and belief of what is right, and I know that beating, slaughtering and ultimately stealing one’s property is not just. Christopher Columbus represents the idea of white supremacy.”
Five Italian-Americans supported the proposal by saying that their Italian pride comes from other historical events, but there were some who rejected renaming the holiday.
They said they found the name change insulting as they believed it disregarded their culture, and expressed disappointment with the councilors who voted against the public hearing and said some people spoke ill of the Italian-Americans.
“[The Italian American alliance] civility has been returned with name calling,” said Ginny Gardner, chair of the Metrowest Italian-American Alliance. “We’ve been called white supremacists, bigoted and racist by your very own … this is extremely insulting.”
Before starting the hearing, Joshua Krintzman brought up the efforts made by councilors Bill Humphrey and Greenberg to reach an agreement on a separate Italian-American Heritage Day to appease the Italian-Americans. Their suggestions were rejected.
“This one is not for the majority of your constituents for whom Columbus Day may represent a point of pride. I understand that. Pride in your heritage is a powerful thing,” said Tamika Olszewski, a member of the Newton School Committee and a Human Rights Commissioner, to the councilors. “But I also understand that the people who need your advocacy the most are the people who are relegated to the footnotes of our history books. Their pride has never been considered.”