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Indigenous activists call on Marathon organizers to change date

Joe Verdone (right) offered cooling relief with his garden hose for runners climbing Heartbreak Hill in Newton during the 2012 Marathon.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

Indigenous activists are continuing to criticize the rescheduled Boston Marathon date, saying their community was not consulted in planning an event that may conflict with Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations.

In January, Marathon organizers the Boston Athletic Association announced that, if the state’s pandemic restrictions are loosened enough by then, the race will be held Oct. 11, a day that will be celebrated in many places as Columbus Day.

But in Newton, Wellesley, Brookline, and a growing number of other municipalities, the second Monday of October will mark Indigenous Peoples Day, a celebration of Native American culture and history. Some say the new race date is insensitive and will steal attention from a holiday honoring people whose contributions to the nation are too little appreciated.


“The Boston Athletic Association clearly did not consult with all stakeholders,” said Jean-Luc Pierite, who heads the board of directors for the North American Indian Center of Boston.

In an online petition, which crossed 2,300 signatures Sunday afternoon, the Newton branch of the Indigenous Peoples Day Massachusetts organization called the timing “sabotage” to celebrations of Native Americans.

“The BAA has the chance to acknowledge the importance of keeping the spotlight on Indigenous Peoples Day rather than steal the spotlight for the Marathon,” petitioners said, linking the decision to a history of the United States marginalizing native peoples.

The petition called on the association to change the date for the Marathon, which was canceled and held virtually in 2020 and postponed this year from its traditional Patriots Day running because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement Sunday responding to the petition, the Boston Athletic Association defended the choice of date, saying it was “selected in close coordination and collaboration with the eight cities and towns that comprise the marathon route.”

“During the date selection process, the Boston Athletic Association regularly met with representatives from the eight cities and towns for feedback and guidance on potential dates and collaboratively selected Monday, October 11,” the association said. “We will continue working with city and town officials, as well as with organizations planning events during the October 9–11 weekend.”


But activists say the association failed to consider the impacts the race may have on other celebrations scheduled that day.

“The BAA should consult with the Indigenous Peoples Day committees in the eight cities and towns and reschedule based on their concerns,” Pierite said.

The Newton group behind the petition said their celebration could be canceled by the race, which runs through the city. Wellesley, another town on the race route, is also set to celebrate its first Indigenous Peoples Day after voters there approved the change in a ballot question last month.

“There must be a way to avoid disruptions to the ceremony, which is the result of years of advocacy,” said Pierite, who is from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. Although he called for rescheduling, he also said the association should offer “recognition of Indigenous athletes in the history of the Boston Marathon in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Mahtowin Munro, an activist who has led efforts at the state level to replace Columbus Day — a federal holiday since 1971 that celebrates Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Western Hemisphere — with Indigenous Peoples Day, also supported the petitioners.


“The day has deep significance for Indigenous people and all those that seek to tell the truth about history and who wish to honor Indigenous resilience and survival,” said Munro, who is from the Lakota tribe now located in North and South Dakota and heads both Indigenous Peoples Day Massachusetts and United Native Americans of New England.

“The BAA’s failure even to consider this or consult with Indigenous people and organizations is unfortunate,” she said. “We join others in calling for them to pick another day.”

Lucas Phillips can be reached at lucas.phillips@globe.com.