Open Letter to Mayor Curtatone: Adopt Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day

Open letter to Mayor Joe Curtatone requesting Somerville adopt Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day:

Eight cities across the country have decided this year — three of them in the last week — to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day. Mayor Curtatone, can we make that list be nine?

Like everywhere on this continent, the seven hills of Somerville were home to a vibrant and diverse community for centuries before the European invasion.

We as a city have thought previously about our origins: text on the Somerville seal reads “Honorably Purchased From The PaSomervillelogowtuckets, 1639.” The land was purchased from the few survivors of a European plague that killed 90% of the Massachusett and Pawtucket nations, but purchased it was, and there is a copy of the deed in the Somerville Museum.

Meanwhile, history has turned against Christopher Columbus. It is now widely understood that Columbus’s role in history was the initiation of centuries of violence and cultural erasure.

 Why would a city that finds pride in a history of displacement by buy-out rather than by massacre choose to continue honoring a man who represents the opposite?

Portland, St. Paul, Albuquerque, Seattle, Olympia, Minneapolis, and several other cities and counties are honoring Indigenous Peoples Day today. The city council of Oklahoma City will vote tomorrow on starting the list for 2016. Let’s have Somerville join the list too. We can be the first city on the East Coast to adopt Indigenous Peoples Day, and lead the way in helping Eastern cities to honor and remember those whose death and displacement made room for the original American colonies.

 Mayor Curtatone, you hang a #BlackLivesMatter banner from City Hall to protest structural racism and “acknowledge a painful reality,” as you put it. The same sense of ethical responsibility that led you to stand with #BlackLivesMatter should also lead you to adopting a day celebrating indigenous peoples and ending the blind recognition of a man who helped initiate their decimation and ongoing erasure.

And just as you described #BlackLivesMatter as both a statement and a question — you wrote “What must we do as a city to fix our part of the system? What must every city do?” — so too must we consider the adoption of Indigenous Peoples Day as the first step towards acknowledging a painful past, honoring the peoples who have been so long disregarded and erased, and ending the continued discrimination, theft of sovereignty, and structural inequality of Native populations across the continent.

But first, Mayor Curtatone, change the name of the day to match the values of our city. Let Somerville officially honor the people who first lived, worked, played, and raised families on this land.

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