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BRUNSWICK — The town will recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October, the same day as Columbus Day.
An 8-1 vote on the question Monday by the Town Council, with Councilor Dan Harris opposed, followed an hour of public debate.
At the same meeting, the council also amended the municipal budget and allocated an additional $200,000 of anticipated revenues toward property tax relief.
The decision followed a Sept. 5 public hearing where councilors discussed using a portion of money from the sale of 946 Mere Point Road to bring down taxes. But they delayed consideration of the idea Monday until a later date.
In adopting “A Resolution to Celebrate Maine’s Indigenous Cultures,” which pays special homage to the local Wabenaki people, Brunswick follows cities like Belfast, Bangor, Orono, and most recently Portland, which passed a similar resolution just an hour earlier Monday.
The day is intended to honor indigenous populations on a federal holiday that is increasingly perceived as celebrating a man who once brought slaughter and injustice to Native Americans.
“It’s a wave that’s going to sweep over our state and country,” Camilla Beale, of east Brunswick, said.
She alluded to a growing moral skepticism over the legacy of Christopher Columbus, whose explorations resulted in acts of violence and injustice against Native American populations.
The resolution co-sponsors – Councilors Kathy Wilson, Sarah Brayman and Jane Millett – said a presentation from the Midcoast Indigenous Awareness Group last spring enlightened them, and set in motion Monday’s vote.
“(Columbus) didn’t discover a New World. We were already here,” Maulian Dana Smith, an ambassador of the Penobscot Nation, told councilors Monday.
As an indigenous woman in Maine, she said Columbus Day is symbolic of “an attempted genocide against our people.” She countered the argument that adopting the local holiday would be a politically correct attempt to “re-writing history.”
Rather, she said, it would correct it and lend dignity back to a population of people that has long been oppressed.
That point of view garnered the majority of support, and from a wide range of people who often shared prepared remarks: a minister, a history teacher, a Bates College professor, a Brunswick High School student.
But a handful of others disagreed – not with adopting the resolution, but with it coinciding, and possibly supplanting, Columbus Day.
“It shouldn’t be about swapping,” Columbia Avenue resident Dan Lord said, adding to those who called for “equal time” for both Columbus and indigenous groups.
“You want to give them a day? Give them a different day,” Jennifer Johnson fumed. “We can’t make everybody feel good. It’s Columbus Day. Period.”
But Mary Heath, of Cedar Street, argued against that.
“(Separate days) implies equity,” she said. “There is no equity here.”
Councilors disagreed over whether they considered the resolution an attempt to condemn Columbus Day, or to allow for the two days to simply coexist.
Millett noted Columbus Day is a federal holiday and Monday’s local resolution has no bearing on that status.
Brayman and Councilor Steve Walker decried the legacy of Columbus and said if they had the power to repeal the federal holiday, they would.
Harris sided with those who wanted the holiday on a separate day and expressed concerned about slighting Columbus and descendants of European settlers.
Brunswick Town Councilors Jane Millett, second from left, Sarah Brayman and Kathy Wilson vote in favor of a resolution they co-sponsored Sept. 18 to recognize Indigenous People’s Day on the same day as Columbus Day. Councilor Dan Harris, left, cast the only dissenting vote, siding with those who preferred to implement the holiday on “its own day.”