Great Barrington to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The town last week became the sixth in the state to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, celebrated on the second Monday of every October.

On Sept. 23, Select Board members signed a proclamation that made the change, and will, in future, coincide with events and celebrations to honor the indigenous people of the Berkshires and in the U.S.

"This just felt like another way that we can push for social equality," board member Kate Burke said Wednesday, noting that the town has passed several initiatives already that encourage an inclusive stance.

One of those is the creation of W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Committee, which drafted the proclamation. Committee Co-Chairs Gwendolyn Hampton VanSant and Randy Weinstein brought it to board members, who signed it after a presentation about the importance of the consciousness shift and a true understanding of American history.

Steven Good Man, a Native American who lives in Mount Washington, told the board he was moved that a proclamation had been drafted in the first place, and explained what it means to be him.

"Indigenous is not a skin color or a nationality," Good Man said. "It's a way of life."

Six states and more than 100 cities nationwide now celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day to, in part, also unravel false history and remove a ruthless colonizer from an elevated post.

"Columbus didn't discover anything, instead stumbling upon thousands of different Indigenous groups with complex societies and systems," says the Indigenous Peoples Day Massachusetts, which is pressing for a statewide renaming.

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A bill to do this remains in a joint committee in the Legislature. Other towns that have made the switch so far are Amherst, Brookline, Cambridge, Northampton and Somerville.

Resident Samara Klein saw the Legacy Committee's initiative on an agenda, as something had been troubling her about her daughter's education.

"I was just kind of sick of her coming home [from school] singing songs about Christopher Columbus every year," she told The Eagle, noting that the tunes were "catchy." It was Klein who knows Good Man and asked him to make a presentation to the board in which he also sang a song from his own Nation.

Burke said that as a parent, she sees this upending of the long-accepted history and tradition of Columbus Day as having wide implications for children. She also wants to help make the change trickle into the schools.

"We've got to help our next generations ask these big questions," she said.

Resident Patrick Fennell pushed back in a letter to The Eagle, saying that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had created the federal holiday in 1937 in part to "honor hardworking and patriotic Italian-Americans," and that rescinding it is a "slap in the face."

But Weinstein thinks that the proclamation is another indication that Great Barrington keeps moving in the right direction, after decades of neglecting to honor the marginalized, or people of color.

"Everything has been turned upside down," he said. "The town is behind it, not just the grassroots folks. Now we work through the town. It's another instance where Great Barrington is on the right side of history."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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