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Some Brookline Select Board members push back against BAA permit for Marathon

The faded starting line of the Boston Marathon on Main Street in Hopkinton.
The faded starting line of the Boston Marathon on Main Street in Hopkinton.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Some members of the Brookline Select Board are threatening to block the Boston Marathon from coming through the town in October if the Boston Athletic Association doesn’t do more to recognize native groups as the Oct. 11 race is due to take place on Indigenous Peoples Day.

“There are some who think this is just bluster, and there’s no way people are going to vote against having the Boston Marathon run through their community — for me, it’s certainly not that,” said Raul Fernandez, the board’s vice chairman, in an interview Friday. “I absolutely will, and I don’t think I will be the only one.”

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A BAA spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Friday evening.

But a race official who spoke during the Select Board’s meeting Tuesday said the BAA is working to address activists’ concerns.

The organization is “looking at how we recognize [the holiday] and how we celebrate indigenous people and indigenous people’s participation in the Marathon, both in our history and in the present day,” Stuart Wall, operations production manager, told the board, according to a recording of the meeting.

The BAA announced in January that because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions, it would delay the Marathon to Oct. 11. That day will be celebrated in many places as Columbus Day, but it has been designated Indigenous Peoples Day in Brookline since Town Meeting members approved a warrant article in 2017.

The holiday is also celebrated in Newton, where the Indigenous Peoples Day Newton Committee earlier this year called on the Boston Athletic Association to reschedule the race. More than 41,000 signatures were collected for an online petition calling for changing the date.

Native activists have strongly criticized the rescheduled date, saying their community was not consulted in planning an event that may conflict with holiday observances.

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At Tuesday’s meeting, Fernandez threatened to vote against the BAA’s permit to come through the town, saying he has seen no acknowledgement from race organizers of the controversy and that they are contributing to the “erasure” of native peoples.

“I really would like to see a more public-facing acknowledgement by the BAA, at a minimum,” he said on a recording of the meeting posted on YouTube. “But then also, what does reparations look like for this, too? What kind of contributions is the BAA planning to make beyond some banners or some mentions during the race on TV or something? What is the BAA going to do to actually improve the conditions of indigenous people today and to highlight those communities?”

Select Board Member Bernard Greene echoed Fernandez’s concerns. Member John VanScoyoc said that he supports further discussion of the issue but that the Marathon is “one of the things that makes people feel really good about Boston. . . . It’s a glorious tradition.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that Brookline is not going to stand in the way of there being a Marathon, and we’re going to work it out,” he said. “So I don’t want people to get the wrong message from this. I don’t want to see a headline that says, ‘Brookline threatens to block the Marathon, blah, blah, blah.’”

Fernandez said Friday evening that he has not heard from the BAA since Tuesday’s meeting. The organization is next due to speak to the Select Board on Aug. 31.

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“I’m available in the intervening days and weeks to sit down and talk and to bring people together to express their concerns,” he said, adding that the BAA has “ample opportunity to craft some kind of response and I think it should be a meaningful response.”



Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.