ELLSWORTH — One order of business for the Hancock County Commissioners at the board’s first meeting of 2019 was to vote 2-1 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
The board met Jan. 3.
Chairman Antonio Blasi said 13 months ago, the board received 75 signatures “asking us to do this.”
Blasi and new commissioner John Wombacher voted in favor of the change. Commissioner Bill Clark was opposed.
Clark said “we should be recognizing our history. The part that Columbus played in our history is significant. If you want to recognize indigenous people, let’s add an indigenous peoples day. I’m really bothered by some of these efforts to remove our history.”
Columbus Day, which celebrates the anniversary of the arrival Christopher Columbus in the Americas, is a federal holiday.
Sheriff Scott Kane told the board that there is already an Indigenous Peoples Day on Aug. 8.
Charles Stephens of Blue Hill was one of a handful of residents who attended part of the commissioners’ meeting.
“For me, Columbus Day is when a real holocaust against our native people began,” Stephens said. Land was taken away from Native Americans and illnesses were introduced, he said.
Clark replied, “We’re talking 400 years ago when taking land was part of the culture. We’re trying to apply today’s social standards to what happened 400 years ago.”
Stephens noted that Confederate statues and the Berlin Wall in Germany are pieces of history that have been removed.
“I think its time to break precedent and honor Native Americans,” Stephens said.
A few residents applauded.
“Seventy-five names don’t matter when it affects the entire county,” Kane said. “Let’s put this out to a referendum.”
In the past few years, several Maine communities have either voted to celebrate both Christopher Columbus and indigenous peoples on the same day — the second Monday in October — or to just change it to Indigenous Peoples Day. Belfast was the first Maine community to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day in 2015.
At Governor Janet Mills’ inauguration, Penobscot Nations Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana called for the change to Indigenous Peoples Day as well.
The history of Columbus Day involves Italian-Americans.
Christopher Columbus never actually set foot on mainland America. He landed in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
According to a National Public Radio report, making Columbus Day a holiday was encouraged to help improve Americans’ perception of Italian-Americans, who were not seen in a positive light in the early 20th century.
An Italian immigrant who founded Colorado’s first Italian newspaper, La Stella, was instrumental in creating the holiday, according to NPR.
Colorado was the first state to observe Columbus Day in 1906 thanks to the efforts of Angelo Noce.
Columbus Day became a federally recognized holiday in 1934.
The county’s calendar change affects non-union county employees. Instead of having the second Monday in October off for Columbus Day, they will have that day off to mark Indigenous Peoples Day.
However, the calendar for union employees, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, Hancock County Jail and the Hancock County Regional Dispatch Center, will still state Columbus Day.
Making a change to the union calendar entails negotiating with the union, Kane said.