scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Somerville will observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 8

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone (right) and a statue of Christopher Columbus.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File; Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/File

Columbus Day has set sail in Somerville.

In a Facebook post Thursday, Mayor Joe Curtatone announced that, on Oct. 8, the city would observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day, recognizing Native American heritage rather than extolling Christopher Columbus and his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Columbus Day is a relic of an outdated and oversimplified version of history,” Curtatone wrote. “We all know there’s more to the story than a nursery rhyme. In Somerville, we will now pay tribute to a history that runs much deeper than the events of 1492.”

Curtatone said the change was made after careful consideration and debate. The city heard arguments and insights from residents, including one student who asked, “Why would we want to commemorate someone who slaughtered innocent people?”


Curtatone’s answer?

“We shouldn’t,” he wrote this week, announcing the change. “By changing our customs around the holiday, we’re still saying we remember Columbus. We just don’t see that as cause to celebrate.”

Somerville isn’t the first community to focus on indigenous people for the holiday rather than the Italian explorer.

In 2016, the Cambridge City Council voted unanimously to change Christopher Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, paying homage to the Native Americans who were killed under Columbus’s leadership.

And in May 2016, both Amherst and Northampton declared the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day. City Councilors in Bangor, Maine, approved a similar change last year.

Supporters have said that such changes acknowledge the presence of indigenous people as well as honor their history.

“Nobody should be celebrating Columbus,” Mahtowin Munro, lead organizer for Indigenous Peoples’ Day Massachusetts, told the Globe last year. “Why would you want to teach that this guy was a hero? That it’s OK to celebrate our genocide?”


In his post, Curtatone, who is Italian-American, said that to celebrate Columbus Day is to ignore the suffering that so many endured. “The issue,” he wrote, “is a lot like the Confederate flag for southerners.”

“As an Italian-American it feels good that there is an official holiday that is nominally about us. We are proud of our heritage. Yet the specifics of this holiday run so deep into human suffering that we need to shift our pride elsewhere,” he said. “We still have descendants of the first people who populated these lands among us. We should not make a celebration of their tragedy.”

He said it’s not a “case of erasing history,” but rather, “recognizing the fuller scope of history and being more respectful toward those to whom it was unkind.”

“We created a holiday in 1934 with the best of intentions, but it runs into much deeper and more tragic territory,” he said. “We know better and, in Somerville, we now will do better. On Oct. 8, I wish everyone a happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Many people who responded to the post Thursday seemed in favor of the shift in perspective.

“Thank you, Mayor. As always, so proud to live in Somerville,” one person wrote.

Another said, “I think this is very thoughtfully done.”

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.