Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards has apologized for her earlier comments on Facebook criticizing Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s order designating Monday as Indigenous Peoples Day in the city.
Edwards, a state Senate candidate whose councilor district includes the heavily Italian-American enclave of East Boston, which typically marks Monday as Columbus Day, made her apology Thursday in a Facebook post.
“For too many people, my comments yesterday were painful and confusing, and I’ve disappointed you,” Edwards wrote in the posting. “For that, I’m sorry.”
On Wednesday, Edwards had said that Janey’s office had unilaterally declared Monday Indigenous Peoples Day without sufficient community input and that she supports the idea of having an Indigenous Peoples Day but didn’t approve of how Janey’s office handled the matter.
“As a city and as a country, we need an Indigenous People’s Day,” Edwards wrote. “It’s a day to acknowledge and address the historic, systemic and ongoing harms towards Indigenous people. More importantly, it’s a day to empower people and celebrate Indigenous leaders and heroes. It is also opportunity for learning, healing and truth.”
But she also said that unilateral decision-making is wrong.
“The people of Boston deserve meaningful engagement because we represent them,” she said in the Thursday apology.
She added that the public must “divorce” the celebration of Italian heritage from the 15th-century explorer Christopher Columbus. His arrival in the Americas has come to be widely associated with the centuries of exploitation, genocide, and displacement of Indigenous populations that followed.
“I heard your calls and read your messages and listened to every piece of feedback and criticism, and it’s with gratitude that I share this message today,” Edwards wrote. “I will keep listening and I always strive to do better.”
In the Wednesday Facebook posting, Edwards had slammed Janey for declaring Monday and the second Monday of each October going forward as Indigenous Peoples Day.
“I was elected to represent the largest Italian American community in the city,” Edwards wrote in that initial post, sparking controversy. “Today’s unilateral action by the acting mayor was a surprise to me and I don’t believe it encourages the honest, transparent, healing conversation we need.”
She added in that initial post that Boston should “absolutely” honor and celebrate Indigenous people.
“Boston will forever celebrate, honor, and acknowledge Italian Americans,” Edwards wrote. “With the right conversation, led by our new elected mayor, that recognizes the urgency of the moment we as a community will do both.”
Some people took to Facebook to criticize Edwards for those initial comments, including one person who wrote in response to her first post: “Councilor Edwards, as an Italian-American, with all due respect: you’re dead wrong. Don’t honor my heritage by celebrating one of history’s greatest murderers.”
Janey’s press office, asked for comment on Edwards’ Facebook apology, released a statement Friday afternoon, saying that the mayor had not received an apology.
“More importantly, neither have the Indigenous organizations who worked with Mayor Janey to develop the executive order establishing Indigenous Peoples Day in Boston,” the statement said. “While it is unfortunate that Councilor Edwards’ original comments crowded out Indigenous voices from public conversation, Mayor Janey welcomes Councilor Edwards’ support for the declaration of Indigenous Peoples Day. It is now time to turn our attention to the descendants of those living here for thousands of years who have eloquently expressed the importance of this recognition.”
Janey signed the order Wednesday and her office said it was meant to recognize the land where Boston sits as the traditional homeland of the Massachusett Tribe and neighboring Wampanoag and Nipmuc tribes.
Janey encouraged businesses, organizations, and public institutions to use Monday as a time to reflect on the historic suppression of indigenous cultures, the statement said.
“Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates the rich cultural legacies of our Indigenous communities while also declaring Boston is ready to work with our neighbors to create a more just future,” Janey said in a Wednesday statement.
The signing of the order stemmed from collaboration between the United American Indians of New England, the North American Indian Center of Boston, and members of the Massachusett Tribe, according to the statement.
“The people of the Massachusett Tribe have been a part of what is now called Boston for over 10,000 years,” said Elizabeth Solomon, an official with the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, in the Wednesday statement from Janey’s office. “For far too long, the indigenous history of this place has been obscured, and frequently erased, by the histories, myths, and priorities of the dominant culture.”