Westborough committee pushes for town-wide recognition of Indigenous People’s Day

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Westborough town iconBy Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

WESTBOROUGH – The Westborough Diversity and Inclusion Committee would like to see the Columbus Day holiday replaced with Indigenous People’s Day town-wide. This push follows a vote earlier this year by the School Committee, which opted to change the holiday on the school calendar.  

Diversity and Inclusion Committee Member Shelby Marshall suggested at the committee’s June 17 meeting, that the matter be brought to the July 20 Select Board meeting in the form of a presentation. Marshall, who is on the Select Board, said it would be best if the Diversity and Inclusion Committee could demonstrate that outreach was done and community support was secured.

“Proceeding without community support creates a recipe for something other than success,” Marshall said. 

She noted that a possible first step would be a proclamation followed by a formal change next year.

Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair Cara Presley said another option would be to put together an outreach plan between July and October to aim for a formal change. The question is whether the change should be adopted this year or next year.

While understanding a “sense of urgency,” Marshall said the Select Board typically likes a lot of dialogue and “community conversation” around an issue before making a decision. She referred to an ongoing discussion about removing memorialization of Eli Whitney and the cotton gin from the town seal as an example of this. At this year’s May Town Meeting, voters approved an article to form a study board around that town seal matter.

Pressley said she’d like to see this change in October 2021. A subcommittee could work on speaking with local groups and garnering support for the idea over the coming months, she said

In an interview following the meeting, Pressley told the Community Advocate the committee is not interested in waiting for action to be taken at the state or federal level before proceeding locally. 

The movement to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day has existed in earnest since the early 1990s, when Berkley, California, became the first city to make the switch. 

Since then, municipalities and groups across the country have made their own decisions on this issue. 

Columbus Day was originally codified as a federal holiday in the 1930s as members of Roman Catholic, Italian American communities sought to recognize a fellow Catholic Italian, History.com noted in 2017. 

Now, though, some advocates are calling for change, saying Columbus contributed greatly to the decimation of native populations in the Americas beginning in the late 1400s. 

Outside of Westborough, Shrewsbury recently moved to recognize Indigenous People’s Day in its school calendar by officially marking the date as Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Cara Presley. The story has been corrected to reflect the correct spelling of her name. The Community Advocate regrets the error.