Maine replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day

Maine replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day

Italian explorer Christopher Columbus did not actually "discover" America, as Icelandic explorer Leif Ericsson landed in the country five centuries prior. Rather, Columbus jumpstarted the European colonization of the Americas, a noteworthy event, but perhaps not worth celebrating. According to historians, Columbus and his men brutally enslaved and abused Native Americans, wiping out entire populations.

In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to abolish Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day (or Native American Day), a celebration of Native American heritage. Since then, five other states have followed suit: Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, New Mexico, and now, Maine. On Friday, the Democratic governor of the Pine Tree state, Janet Mills, signed a bill officially replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day.

an image of Indigenous people celebrating their heritage Credit: Getty

Maine has four federally recognized Native American tribes, and their relationship has become strained due to disagreements over land ownership; namely, a controversial 1790 treaty signed 30 years before the state existed, and a poorly worded 1980 settlement that sparked disputes over casino locations and EPA rules mandating higher water quality standards in tribal rivers. Chiefs from three out of the four tribes joined Gov. Mills for the signing.

"I believe we are are stronger when we seek a fuller and deeper understanding of our history," Mills said, during a bill-signing ceremony. "I believe we are stronger when we lift up the voices of those who have been harmed and marginalized in the past, because there is power in a name and in who we choose to honor." Just a few days ago, Maine's Democratic controlled-House passed a bill banning public schools from using mascots and logos depicting Native Americans.

tribes celebration Indigenous People's Day Credit: Getty

Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana said the change shows "a true intent to honor the Indigenous Nations of our State and brings all citizens to an elevated understanding and reconciliation of our shared history... [We are] happy that our ancestral ties and contributions are validated and celebrated instead of silenced and ignored by the previous holiday that glorified the attempted genocide of our Nations."

"We are graciously appreciative of this measure that reflects a state that feels more welcoming and inclusive," Dana added. "Our past can be painful but our present and future can be brighter with acts of unity and honesty."