On March 2 Wellesley residents will have the opportunity to vote on Question 1, a non-binding resolution that pushes for the replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. In the United States, where Columbus Day is observed as a federal holiday, more than 130 cities and fourteen states have made the switch, citing it as a way to honor Native Americans and recognize the brutal history of colonization.
The movement in Wellesley was originally spearheaded 2 ½ years ago by Michelle Chalmers, President Emeritus of World of Wellesley (WOW), a local organization committed to celebrating diversity and fighting racism in Wellesley, and students from the high school. The efforts to make this change have involved several stages of town discussions to get to this town wide vote.
Finally brought to town meeting as Article 42 in June 2020, the article was passed with an amendment stating that it would first have to be brought to a non-binding town-wide vote. The Wellesley Select Board will make the final decision. The movement to adopt this has been a part of WOW’s commitment to supporting education on the issues faced by Indigenous Peoples in North America and engaging in education about the history of Indigenous Peoples.
In addition to WOW, the Committee for Indigenous Peoples Day Wellesley (IPD Wellesley) was created as an independent organization to support the article.
“We support more education about the histories and cultures of Indigenous Peoples. It is part of the larger story of our country’s history of racism against many different peoples of color,” said Dr. Katy Hanson, a member of IPD Wellesley.
WOW also advocates increased diversity and representation of Indigenous Peoples across Wellesley Public Schools curricula to continue giving students a broader perspective.
“I think that the establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day would be a first step to encourage more education [about Indigenous Peoples and their cultures],” said Dr. Hanson. “The state K-12 curriculum has a long way to go in terms of including information about Indigneous perspectives, the genocide committed against the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and the study of contemporary Indigenous Nations.”
Supporters of this motion feel that it is a necessary step to fostering inclusivity in Wellesley. Both WOW and IPD Wellesley believe that Columbus is a symbol of the brutal colonization and genocide of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas. Proponents of the resolution cite that his legacy propagated the murder and enslavement of Indigenous Peoples, along with the devastating loss of their culture.
“This [Indigenous Peoples Day] includes making Wellesley more welcoming. I think, as a community and as a society, who we celebrate and what we celebrate really says a lot about who we are as individuals,” said Christina Horner, co-president of WOW.
Let’s Talk Wellesley and Young Ethnic Scholars (YES), both clubs at the high school, have also fully endorsed the resolution.
Opponents to the proposal feel that this change will create more division in the community than unity. Italians Are People Too, is a local organization opposed to the change, specifying that Columbus Day is tied to Italian-Americans and Italian Immigration.
“We believe that the polarization and exclusivity of replacing one heritage for another needs to be addressed broadly and with civility in our community,” said Donna Ticchi, a Wellesley resident in an interview with The Swellesley Report. “Voters need to learn more about these issues. We are organizing our next steps and remain positive about the way forward.”
For those a part of the organization, Columbus Day represents Italian ancestry, while also giving Italian-Americans pride in being citizens and honoring their contributions to America.
As a part of Wellesley’s annual elections and voting, residents will have the opportunity to demonstrate their feelings towards this bill.