Discover Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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It’s no secret that towns on Martha’s Vineyard and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) have been at odds over the tribe’s pursuit of a bingo hall on reservation land in Aquinnah.

The legal battle continues in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and the courts will ultimately decide just how much influence the towns and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission can have on the gambling hall in terms of building permits and codes. The U.S. Supreme Court, in taking a pass on a previous aspect of the case, has made it clear the tribe has the right to have a casino on its land. The only question is what, if any, role the town of Aquinnah and the Island as a whole can have in shaping what’s built. 

The legal battle between the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the town over the past several years has opened old wounds. It’s a struggle that’s been going on since the late 1970s and 1980s, when Islanders worried that the tribe’s quest for land would damage property values.

The tribe settled with the town and the state in 1983, a deal that was ultimately codified by Congress in 1987, to give the tribe reservation land and, in exchange, most property owners got clear title to their land.

The towns say the tribe agreed to comply with local building permits in that agreement. The tribe contends that Indian gaming is regulated by the federal government, and those restrictions and guidelines already protect the town.

The towns — and in particular Aquinnah — have said they want to work with the tribe as neighbors. They say the latest legal maneuver isn’t about trying to block the project.

Well, there is something they could do to show, rather than tell, the tribe that they appreciate and respect the Aquinnah Wampanoag as a sovereign nation. The towns on Martha’s Vineyard could follow the lead of Mashpee, and officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, rather than Columbus Day, on the second Monday of October.

Earlier this year, Mashpee voted to forgo the Columbus Day holiday in favor of celebrating the people who lived in Mashpee before European settlers “discovered” America. For many in Indian Country, celebrating Columbus is providing recognition to someone who enslaved and killed their ancestors.

WCAI, the Cape and Islands radio station, and the Cape Cod Times reported on Monday’s events in Mashpee, which included drumming, singing, and tours of the town’s one-room schoolhouse. “When I had drafted the article, I had told the town this would be a great example for us to lead the way,” Mashpee Wampanoag tribe member Brian Weeden said of getting Mashpee voters on board to support the switch at a town meeting, according to WCAI. “What better town than Mashpee, the Indian plantation reservation, the little town on the Cape, to lead the way for others?”

Major cities including Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Phoenix, and Washington, according to the New York Times, have also jumped ship from Christopher Columbus to honor tribes.

There are some who will see this as rewriting history. We see it as making right with history.

The Aquinnah Wampanoag’s deep and rich ties to the Island are worth honoring and celebrating. The tribe is one of only two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts. The other one is the Mashpee Wampanoag, where this change has been adopted.

To paraphrase Brian Weeden, what better place than Martha’s Vineyard to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day? Let’s make it happen.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Racism, violence, and conquest are part of the human condition, not just the European one. Pre-Columbian America had slavery, cannibalism and mass human sacrifice. Long before Columbus knew a North American continent existed, Indians of the Northern Plains were massacring entire villages. And not just killed, but mutilated.. Most Native American tribal groups practiced some form of slavery before the European introduction of African slavery into North America. Commanches practiced slavery long after Columbus between 1750 and 1860 in the Southwest. Enslaved warriors endured mutilation or torture that could end in death as part of a grief ritual for relatives slain in battle.The Aztecs were more into the volume approach to ritual human slaughter. Aztecs performed a mass human sacrifice of an estimated 80,000 enslaved captives in four days. Cannibalism was also fairly common in the New World before (and after) Columbus arrived. The name “Mohawk” comes from the Algonquin for “flesh eaters.” The Aztecs viewed their prisoners as “marching meat.” No race or ethnicity has purity in their background. Man is fallen. Do the anti-Columbus activists really know history?

    • What does that have to do with Columbus? Just because you say pre-Columbus and post-Columbus doesn’t make your argument valid. Columbus didn’t even step foot in America. Let the indigenous people have their day they deserve it don’t you agree?

  2. Andrew — thank you for your brief and apparently mostly accurate history lesson.
    So, since many cultures committed what we would call atrocities centuries ago, we should celebrate the atrocities that our ancestors committed ?
    nice to see you finally getting around to thinking cultural diversity, and different customs and beliefs are something to celebrate. Now, if only you could find some good in the diversity of people loving each other rather than just slaughtering and cannibalizing each other, I would have much more respect for you.

    • dondondon, You dont have any respect for me and havent for a long time so there is nothing I could say to bring that back except perhaps that I will vote for Hilary when she runs again. Your post above is a non sequitor. We should not celebrate any atrocities. Where do you read that? Yours is simply another reflexive habituation of attacking me.

      • Andrew– we have a national holiday celebrating Columbus. While that may not be celebrating an atrocity directly, it is celebrating the person leading the charge to the near extinction of indigenous people across the America’s. He succeeded in the complete extinction of the Arawak’s in Haiti, while he was there. He was known to be extremely ruthless.
        https://rapidcityjournal.com/lifestyles/people/top-atrocities-committed-by-christopher-columbus/collection_76ebb2b8-f63d-11e3-a137-001a4bcf887a.html#4

        If I were Jewish and living in Germany, I would not be pleased with a holiday honoring the man who perpetrated the holocaust.
        I think it is helpful for one’s soul to think about the plight of others once in a while.. When I a young and impressionable child I was indoctrinated into the teachings of one Jesus Christ, a man who lived about 2000 years ago, who I do respect. Some of that still sticks with me today, and I am a better person for it. May I suggest that you read some of the things He said about treating others, and having compassion for them ? Most bookstores will have a copy of the story of His life– it is simply titled “the Bible”

  3. Aside from the usual what-aboutism and mansplaining from plenty of privileged white, so-called Christians who are against changing the name of Columbus Day, I really cannot understand why bringing up the worst of other cultures’ ancient history is so necessary in order for certain privileged white people to feel that compassion, empathy, and understanding today somehow undermines their inbred sense of superiority. It’s not like all those people against renaming Columbus Day to Indiginous Peoples’ Day would ever support a POTUS that is responsible for the HUMAN SLAUGHTER of Kurds after our country betrayed them, right? When people know better, they’re supposed to do better, but all the anti’s of Indiginous Peoples’ Day want is their hypocritical barbarism and selfish self-interests to stay on top. And they call themselves Christians, to boot.

    • jackie– “When people know better, they’re supposed to do better” — best comment of the week ..

  4. Disparaging a day for another idea makes no sense. Why tie the indigenous peoples recognition by using them to dispose of a Columbus Day. That’s not fair to those who deserve their own day – not one sullied by referencing history and all its warts. Pick a new day and create a true celebration. The transplant is merely another avenue for the “woke” to complain.

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