The Cambridge City Council has voted unanimously to change Christopher Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Councilor Nadeem Mazen, who proposed the idea, said it is important to reclaim the day for Native Americans, thousands of whom were killed under Columbus’s leadership when he came to the New World.
At a committee meeting and public hearing on May 26, several Cambridge citizens and advocates for indigenous people showed up and supported the change, Mazen said.
“We had a fantastic discussion on the history of Columbus Day and the importance of Italian-Americans in our community,” he said at the Monday meeting.
Some people see the holiday change as a slight to Italian-American heritage, since Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy.
Cambridge Vice Mayor Marc McGovern, however, said he was pleased to see explorer’s holiday removed. The council voted 9-0 to make the change.
“I view changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a cleansing for me, as an Italian-America. I do not want Christopher Columbus to be representing my culture,” he said before the vote Monday. “I really view it … as making a day that I can actually be proud of.”
McGovern characterized Columbus as “the first person to start the genocide that took place in this part of the world.”
The City Council vote means an official change to the city calendar for the second Monday of each October. The school committee will now take up the matter and decide whether to change the school calendar.
The resolution requests that the city historical commission work to properly recognize the indigenous people who lived in Cambridge.
If the city decides to hold a celebration on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it will be more solemn, Mazen said.
At the end of the discussion and vote Monday night, Mayor E. Denise Simmons had a simple message for the council: “This is a very important day in Cambridge.”
J.D. Capelouto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto.