PORTLAND — City councilors on Monday enacted a day to honor Native Americans and banned the use of exotic and wild animals in local shows.
Councilors unanimously supported designating the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, although they noted it does not eliminate the traditional observance of the Columbus Day federal holiday.
“It does really turn the spotlight on what indigenous peoples went through,” Councilor Nick Mavodones said.
Councilor Pious Ali proposed the resolution. Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilors Jill Duson, Belinda Ray, Brian Batson and Spencer Thibodeau were co-sponsors.
“Part of this is to give us and our children the opportunity to learn about the people who first lived here,” Ali said.
Portland joins Bangor, Brunswick and Orono with a local observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Countering views of Christopher Columbus, who made four journeys to the Caribbean without ever reaching the continental U.S., dominated a public hearing that lasted about an hour.
Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana Smith said honoring Columbus is an affront to the history of Native Americans.
“Columbus represented the beginning of the genocidal policies against native people,” she said. “It is a very simple ask. You can’t ask indigenous people to gloss over history so you can have day off work.”
Carmela Reali, president of the Italian Heritage Center, objected to having the observances on the same day.
“Increasingly political correctness, multicultural education, and governments are succeeding to erase history,” Reali said, adding Columbus Day also commemorates the immigration of millions of Italians to America.
Jim DiBiase said Columbus did engage in genocide, but added Italians also faced discrimination when arriving in America.
“Don’t deny the role this seafarer from Genoa had on the shaping of America,” he said.
Washington Avenue resident April Fournier, a Dine Navajo whose mother was adopted, said Indigenous Peoples’ Day is needed to tell the whole story of America.
“This change demonstrates our commitment to change our history,” she said.
Councilors were also unanimous in their support for an amendment to Chapter 5 of the city code governing animals and fowl that prohibits the display of wild and exotic animals.
The ordinance, proposed by Batson, bans the participation of wild and/or exotic animals in animal acts traveling through the city.
Supporters of the amendment rallied outside City Hall before the meeting, then spoke again during a 30-minute public hearing.
Katie Hansberry, the Maine senior state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said the time has come for a ban, not only because of the cruel treatment of animals in the shows, but also public health hazards.
“Animals in circuses and other traveling displays are trained with pain and the fear of punishment, bullied to perform silly tricks, forced to endure extreme confinement while chained in trucks and trailers during months of grueling, travel each year,” she said.
The ordinance was amended to specifically exempt horses; livestock and swine are also not covered.
Katie Hansberry speaks in support of a Portland ordinance banning wild and exotic animal displays and shows before a Sept. 18 City Council meeting. The ordinance passed without opposition.