Two state governors, Gov. Phil Scott in Vermont, and Gov. Janet Mills in Maine are poised to sign two sets of approved state legislation into law, recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day as a replacement for Columbus Day on the second Monday each October.
The legislative move follows a series of acknowledgments over the years as former Vermont Gov. Shumlin had signed an executive proclamation to change the federal holiday in 2016, and the present Governor Phill Scott had issued further proclamations in 2017 and 2018. Gov. Mills in Maine has previously said she would sign the legislation after the Democratic governor took office replacing former Republican Paul LaPage. Republican lawmakers in the state of Maine have continued to oppose changing the holiday.
Changing Columbus Day in Vermont
Rich Holschuh, who serves on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, wrote to Indian Country Today in an email regarding the Vermont legislature that passed Senate bill S.68 "An act relating to Indigenous Peoples' Day" on April 17, 2019.
“This group effort by activists, advocates, State Senators and Representatives (notably Sen. Debbie Ingram and the tireless Rep. Brian Cina), allies, and citizens culminates a multi-attempt, multi-year effort to effect this highly significant change,” wrote Holschuh.
“Vermont has a reputation of being a socially-progressive state, but in some respects, it has been reluctant to admit the need for change; this has been one of them. Native presence in New England has, for the most part, been actively attacked, dispelled, or dismissed for much longer than in the balance of the continent, a direct result of the assault of colonization beginning significantly earlier here. There are even Native folks further west who are under the impression that there are "no Indians" left in the vicinity.”
Holschuch applauded the efforts of his former state Gov. Shumlin who had recognized Indigenous Peoples Day in former years. “Three years ago, then Governor Peter Shumlin, who had presided over the initial Abenaki Recognitions of 2011 and 2012, issued an Executive Proclamation for Indigenous Peoples' Day at my request. His successor, current Vermont Governor Phil Scott, issued identical Executive Proclamations in the past two years in 2017 and 2018, again at my request. Building on those actions, the legislation of S.68 passed this week will now make this a permanent, statewide recognition and celebration.”
On Twitter, Vermont State Senator Debbie Ingram wrote, “So happy this has passed both chambers! And proud to be the lead sponsor of this step to right, or at least acknowledge, the many wrongs perpetrated on our Native American brothers & sisters.”
Changing Columbus Day in Maine
The slow change to ending Columbus Day in Maine has been making its way into existence aligned with the influence of Republican lawmakers in the state. Former conservative Republican Governor Paul LaPage.
It wasn’t until 2018 when Democrats took control of the state Senate. This year is the first time Democrats have controlled both chambers of the state legislature as well as the governor's office since 2003-2010. When Maine passed the bill on Thursday, April 18, it was a nearly straight party-line vote Democrats supported the change while Republicans opposed it. Only two Democrats voted no, and one Republican voted yes.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, who had told the Bangor Daily News in February when first introducing the legislation, “I greatly respect the history of the Italian-Americans and their contribution, however, I think we can honor their presence here without this day, which really isn’t fitting.”
Former Penobscot Nation Chief Barry Dana, told the Bangor Daily News, “Maine has not addressed its relationship with Maine’s first people. This would be a way of doing that.”
Oami Amarasingham, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said, “It’s time to stop celebrating a man whose arrival brought death, disease, and slavery to hundreds of thousands, and start honoring the people who lived here long before.”
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling
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