State House considers bill to rename Columbus Day
The New Hampshire House of Representatives is discussing House Bill 1604, an effort to rename “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People’s Day.” The bill is sponsored by Reps. Timothy Horrigan, Amanda Bouldin, Wayne Burton and Janet Wall.
Burton said that the most significant potential impact of the bill is raising awareness of indigenous people in New Hampshire and the fact that a majority of New Hampshire land belongs to the Abenaki tribe.
“This bill will help people become more aware of the rich heritage of the Native Americans, whose history expands beyond the time English settlers arrived in New England,” he said.
The bill also hopes to encourage harmony with Native Americans and reject racism and genocide, he said.
However, Burton added that he recognizes the difficulty of passing the bill.
“I doubt that the bill would be passed,” he said.
Burton was inspired to co-sponsor the bill after Durham, New Hampshire, his hometown, decided to change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in September 2017, the first town in New Hampshire to make such a change. The resolution passed as the town grappled with what to do about a controversial mural in the local post office that depicted a Native American figure that some called offensive. Burton said the image inaccurately represented Native Americans as “savages [who] murder people” and who are “devoid of diversity.”
Many Italian-Americans see Columbus Day as their national holiday and opposed the bill, Burton said.
Muriel Ammon ’21, Gabrial Canfield ’21 and Tia Folgheraiter ’21, members of Native Americans at Dartmouth, also expressed doubts about the possibility of passing the bill.
“I’m a little pessimistic — too many things have been promised to Native Americans, but little has been done,” Ammon said. “But it’s important to note the awareness of the Native American community this bill brings about. Many people don’t know the accurate history behind Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
NAD organizes many events to raise the Dartmouth community’s awareness of Native American culture, such as the annual protest, drum circle and fire ceremony on the Green at midnight before Columbus Day, according to Ammon.
“Awareness is the biggest thing,” she said. “We want people to know that we are on indigenous land and to realize that it’s not okay to celebrate Columbus Day.”
Burton said that he relates personally to the brutality of both racism and genocide through his experiences as a captain serving in the Vietnam War.
“It was just like how Columbus and European colonizers wiped out the entire tribe — I saw villages destroyed and people dead everywhere,” he said. “It was horrible. I opposed the war when I returned.”
Burton said he hopes the bill will introduce positive discussion against racism and point out the dark sides of Columbus Day, as it currently celebrates Christopher Columbus, who has been accused of starting the slave trade and engaging in other atrocities, as a hero.
He said that many people in New Hampshire are supportive of the bill and have provided powerful testimonies, including Kathleen Blake, chair of the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs. According to a transcript of her testimony, Blake said that the bill will officially “recognize that the indigenous peoples were really the first settlers of this land, ... generate a more accurate portrayal of the history of the indigenous peoples, and of the conflicts and struggles between them and the colonists and [make schools] focus on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Canfield added that she is aware of Italian-Americans’ reasons for opposing the bill.
“There are better things and better people to celebrate in Italian culture,” she said. “It’s horrible to commemorate a guy who committed genocide and didn’t even arrive in North America.”
Folgheraiter said that she hopes the bill will be passed, adding that she will also bring up the bill in NAD meetings to increase support for the bill at Dartmouth.