West Tisbury considers change from Columbus Day

Select board member Kent Healey seeks more time to understand who the indigenous people are. 

34
Kent Healy at the Tisbury Great Pond during the 2017 West Tisbury select board elections. He questioned what indigenous means during a discussion of changing from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. — Stacey Rupolo

The process to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day was put on hold during Wednesday’s West Tisbury select board meeting. 

Skipper Manter, West Tisbury select board chair, had asked to put this issue on the agenda last week. The plan was for the select board to ask the West Tisbury personnel board “to investigate the possibility of changing our language in the personnel board bylaw to reflect Indigenous Peoples Day and not Columbus Day.” Additionally, Manter said, he would like to forward this on to the state legislature and Congress “to make this change statewide and nationwide.” 

“I agree it’s a good idea to change the name,” Cynthia Mitchell, West Tisbury select board member, said. “It feels like it’s changing informally.”

However, Mitchell said she was unsure how much influence West Tisbury can exert on the state and federal level for the change. Manter said at least beginning the process at home was important. 

According to Jennifer Rand, West Tisbury town administrator, if the change is made, the personnel board would need to bring forward a warrant article for the wording change at the next town meeting. Due to Massachusetts not recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day, West Tisbury would need to word the personnel bylaw in a way that gives a day off on the second Monday of October for a holiday the town recognizes. In the end, West Tisbury’s voters will be the ones to decide whether the town observes the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. 

“I don’t know what indigenous means,” Kent Healey, West Tisbury select board member, said. 

“It means native peoples, so basically the first peoples of the Island,” Rand explained. “Which would be our tribal neighbors.”

Healey questioned Rand about the accuracy of the definition. Rand said that while there may be a dictionary definition that differs somewhat, this is the common way people understand the term. 

“It doesn’t matter who they were, there were some,” said Mitchell.

“I mean, I knew who Christopher Columbus was, not that I think he was a great guy, but I sure don’t know what indigenous peoples is,” Healey responded.

Rand tried to explain, based on things she recently read about the topic, that indigenous people are those who were in America before Columbus arrived in the Caribbean. Additionally, Columbus Day honors his discovery of America, which he did not “discover.” In turn, Indigenous Peoples Day is an attempt to “honor the fact [Columbus’] legacy is perhaps not something to be quite so proud of, and that there were people that came before.”

Healey said he already knew Columbus did not discover America. 

Manter wanted this to be a unanimous decision and suggested holding off on the vote until next week’s meeting. Manter asked Healey to read up on the subject and think about it. 

In other news, the select board unanimously decided to find Lighthouse Taxi in violation of rules in Edgartown. These included parking violations and issues of picking up people. Among the violations was when one of the taxi drivers, Antoniya Sabeva, parked at the Edgartown Lighthouse area for an extended period of time. When approached and questioned by Edgartown Special Officer Brian Jordan, Sabeva attempted not to answer who she was there to pick up, and she tried to not show her license when requested, according to the Edgartown Police report. 

Attorney Casey Dobel, Lighthouse Taxi’s representative, said there was some miscommunication between the two individuals. Dobel said Sabeva is an immigrant to the U.S., and while her English is very good, there may have been some misunderstandings that occurred while talking to Jordan. Sabeva has no prior violations, so the board unanimously agreed to let her off with a warning this time around. 

In other business, West Tisbury will be forming a town tree committee to figure out the best way to approach replacing dangerous trees. The committee would also be looking into the other trees in town. Tim Boland, the ex officio board member of Polly Hill Arboretum, offered the donation of trees from the arboretum, and cooperation with West Tisbury planters, to offset some of the costs for the town. He also offered to help in the search for a few people who would help tree warden Jeremiah Brown with the tree analysis and replacements. 

“I think it’s a great idea,” Brown said. “The more minds, the better.” 

Meanwhile, the select board unanimously approved Nicola Blake’s appointment to the climate plan action committee. Will Whiting resigned from the West Tisbury shellfish committee. 

The select board also unanimously approved awarding a contract to Keenan & Kenny for the Howes House building project. 

34 COMMENTS

  1. Defaming Columbus is to portray the United States and Western culture negatively. Columbus displayed courage, determination, and perseverance. He opened up the new world to European settlers in 1492, thereby making the United States possible.

    • Columbus also embodied the greatness of Western business innovation and laissez faire government techniques, specifically in the category of chattel slavery of < 11 year old girls.

      • A practice participated in by the entire world at the time and still practiced in much of the world today excluding the parts Columbus hailed from and discovered.

  2. I don’t think we should change the name of a national holiday based solely upon the conclusions of Howard Zinn. If we are going to change the name it should be based on concrete evidence that Columbus, himself, was other than a great explorer beloved by many Italian Americans. Why is Columbus suddenly unworthy of a holiday after being honored in this country since before its inception until about 1980? I have no objection to establishing a separate “indigenous peoples” day, but don’t replace the existing holiday just because it is suddenly intellectually trendy to hate on Columbus.

    • The premise of your conclusions is incorrect. The objections did not start with Howard Zinn, no matter what Ben Shapiro is ranting about this week. They were around long before Zinn’s work became well-known, and he would be the very first to point that out. Native groups keep track of their own history, and that informs their stances.

      Columbus Day is not, as a matter of law, an Italian-American holiday. There is no reason an informal connection should trump concern over the day’s real, factual purpose. To push this angle is the true cultural insensitivity. There are many things that have been and can be done to honor Italian contributions, and that’s fine, but there is no way to keep Columbus Day while divorcing it from his historical atrocities. It’s even cooked into the namesake. If you’d like a new celebration for immigrants, put forth that idea.

      There is nothing trendy about wanting to end this holiday. ‘Trendy’ is, funny enough, just the buzzword given to any societal issue that has gone ignored for decades, sometimes centuries, and is now being forced out in the open, much to the chagrin of those who aren’t impacted and simply don’t want to hear it.

      It’s ironic. Native people have taken a stand against this since day one and have been written off by the majority, effectively silencing them. Yet there is insistence that we don’t do that in this country, that everyone has equal input. You’re now admitting the complaints seem relatively recent because they finally made the priority list of white Americans, proving that one group has the power to shape the national conversation. Any discussion prior to that didn’t so much as register.

      This is how it goes for every issue involving minorities. Gay Americans couldn’t marry until straight America decided to support it. Black Americans were unjustly beaten or killed well before the majority decided to do something about it. These, too, are called trends, despite years of activism from those actually affected, because it only counts as in play once it comes from certain mouths. Pretty telling about how things work and how closely we listen.

      What is your offer of proof that Columbus was “great”? What exactly did he do for this country that was so amazing it requires a holiday? He surely didn’t discover this land or any other, which is the official reason for the fuss. Do we really need to prop up a falsehood? He wasn’t the first person with European blood to end up on Turtle Island via a ship. He didn’t even step foot on the soil now called the U.S. So why?

      • For proof Columbus was great, why don’t we start with the fact that he has towns and cities named after him all over this country, many dating from before the country was founded, thousands of statues, along with a national holiday. He is a symbol of this country through the adoption of Columbia in American art and culture. Even Zinn’s 1980 book, which he called A People’s History of the United States, begins with a chapter dedicated to Columbus. The historical perception of him as a great explorer has persisted for 500 years and there is no truly new evidence, just a desire to tear down his image with translations taken out of context. Don’t assume that other people don’t think for themselves just because you have chosen to embrace Zinn’s point of view.

        • Read about Michele de Cuneo accompanying Columbus on his second voyage and what they did with native women. Truly worse than I can describe here. If his crimes are too great to write about in the comments section of a reputable paper, why are we celebrating him? What other holidays elevate a genocidaire, slaver, and procurer for rape?

        • Do you really want to go there, Dan? By the same logic, the Confederacy must have won the Civil War because look at all the statues to Confederate generals and how about those flags flying at the Capitol on the 6th of January last? (Need I add that this is a reason at least some of those statues are coming down.)

        • Q: What about Columbus was great enough to justify naming a holiday after him?

          A: …that he had a holiday named after him.

          We should start a band called The Tautologies.

          Once more, I am not talking about Zinn, Dan. You are. To the exclusion of other points and cultures. His sources pre-date that book. Accept that Indigenous communities voiced objections prior to 1980 and are also keepers of history. Many in the U.S. believe colonial accounts alone are equal to facts. Doesn’t make it true. I wouldn’t boast about independent thinking while forcing a Daily Wire-ish script, but maybe that’s coincidence.

          You’re right, there is not much new information. The evidence is old. There are records that can’t be explained away. Columbus was not suddenly accused of being a bad guy in the age of Madonna and hairspray. He was hauled back across the Atlantic in his own lifetime. That’s always been known and downplayed.

          To consider cities and statues as proof of greatness is circular. They indicate many things but not necessarily merit. They’re often signs of propaganda. How many dictators had statues? In this case, they indicate to me that lobbying works and brutality was ignored in favor of spinning a sanitized tale fit for school kids.

          As you said, he became a symbol. On that, I completely agree. It’s at the heart of the problem. When was the last time a symbol provided a factual look at anything? By its very nature, it’s an abstraction. Designed to appeal and promote a message. The bias is built in. We honor Columbus the myth. I’m talking about Columbus the man because Native populations encountered a real person. Some myths are fairly benign. Others bury reality and distort perspective, leading to great harm. They should not be a part of government.

          “tear down his image with translations taken out of context.”

          The context is available and doesn’t help. I’ve seen this claim featured in multiple videos this week, all from folks who admit they cannot speak a word of even modern Spanish. Meanwhile, the documents have been scrutinized and debated by experts over hundreds of years.

          Someone pro-Columbus still thought it made sense to run diary quotes through Google Translator. He then assumed the results were an accurate assessment of the intended nuance, trumping scholars with years of experience.

          Only in America.

    • Shouldn’t we really be honoring Queen Isabella, follow the money?
      Columbus was just Isabella’s boat boy.
      History?
      The winners write the history.
      For White people Columbus was a real winner.
      For people of color, not so much.
      There are so many people of color on the Island.
      And a few that claim origins in Italy.

  3. Seems to me we are focusing on one very small part of human history. Have we forgotten that approximately 30,000 years ago the ‘first’ people crossed the Bering Sea land bridge between what is now Siberia and Alaska. Those people certainly were not indigenous to the area, yet over timeand bridge permitting more people wandered over to America from Asia. Picking on Christopher Cologne is essentially the same as picking a scab off the back of the wooly mammoth of history.
    I believe there should be a day for the folks who first found America, I do not think there is a need to detract from other people who made the same effort thousands of years later.

    • The land bridge theory has been repeatedly disputed in favor of newer evidence. DNA science, for starters, has come a long way since that hypothesis was originally floated in the 1850s. Either way, it’s irrelevant.

      Per the government, a body that claims to equally represent all people, we celebrate Columbus on a national and local level. Our leaders established this point of contention long ago by overlooking the immense harm done to Native groups during the so-called European discovery period. It’s not as if any member of the public randomly picked a moment in history to take issue with.

      If you see Indigenous people protesting genocide, among other horrors, and you interpret it as Columbus being picked on… I don’t even know what to say. No one is anti-Christopher merely because he stumbled upon our shores. It’s what he did with his time in the now-Americas that counts. If this really was, as you say, a very small part of history, why uphold the current day in honor of it?

  4. My my, such long speech’s about what most are ignorant about. History is written by the winners always has always will just look to the tribes of Europe, Asia, Africa oh I mean the whole world. Subjugation of the losers under the foot of the victors is our combined history. And the tribes of the American Indians were and are presently no different. The all knowing ones who speak loud yet keep their money close are meaningful as a fart in the wind.

    • “History is written by the winners always has always will”

      “Subjugation of the losers under the foot of the victors”

      Thank you for proving the anti-Columbus Day point better than I ever could.

      • No denying what I wrote, you can wish all you want for the world to be the way you want, sorry it will be the same as it has been for all of record time.

        • I’m not wishing for anything. Speaking up and actually expecting change are different. You have nothing else to offer so you attempt condescension. Grown men still discuss genocide in football parlance. Sometimes we even elect them. That alone tells me all I need to know about human nature.

  5. There are a lot of elements to this idea that make it a bad idea. First of all, we know that Columbus did not discover our lands, yet despite that the overwhelming majority of Americans still revere the courage and vision of his voyages. We are not alone on that, as his descendants are still honored in Spain. This is the only national holiday which recognizes the contribution of Italian Americans, and simply taking it away is spitting on their faces.
    The continued, ongoing hostility of Native Americans to many aspects of our shared cultural heritage is unfortunate. They, just as much as any group, have contributed their share. That being given it needs to be said that they were defeated and conquered because they were far more interested in allying with European settlers against other tribal groups, than they were in defying and fighting off those European settlers. We could not have taken this continent, had they not been so set on destroying each other.
    Native Americans should have their own national days, but not through ruining the traditions of others.

    • If you look at the history of Mexico, it is utterly bizarre that the Aztecs did not defeat Cortez when they outnumbered the Spanish by such a massive ratio. It is almost as if the Aztecs hired Hillary‘s campaign managers to direct their strategies.

      • The Aztecs did not have guns or horses.
        The Aztecs were not fighters.
        The were artists, first and foremost
        The didn’t take other people stuff.
        Speaking of Hillary’s campaign managers how did Trump’s campaign managers strategy work in 2020.
        There is some back chatter about him winning by a landslide, the biggest ever.
        Alex, have you hear that too?

        • Albert,
          With all due respect, you are wrong. The Aztecs were fighters. I could paste links all day long, but perhaps this quote from an article in Smithonian Magazine titled “Aztecs: Blood and Glory” will suffice: “Five hundred years ago, in Mesoamerica, an empire held sway whose creative energy and sheer ruthlessness announced a long and powerful future.” The article goes on to describe the warrior culture and the practice of human sacrifice, cannibalism and other brutal practices. Do you have access to better information than the Smithonian to make your contradictory assertions that they were primarily peaceful artisans?

          It may shock you, but I’m not a Trump supporter. I’m simply an observant human who saw that Hillary’s campaign managed to trip over their own feet and blow a layup that would have sealed the game. Her campaign did a better job of electing Trump than Trump himself. The Aztecs likewise had an easy path to defeating the Spanish and they blew it. If you look at the historical record, they had the Spanish on the run and were about to annihilate them when…..they called off the battle and went back to their city, giving the Spanish time to recover and prepare for the next round. The rest is history. Kind of like 2016.

    • How should we recognize the contributions of:
      Spanish Americans?
      French Americans?
      German Americans?
      Russian Americans?
      Canadian Americans?
      Mexican Americans?
      Norwegian Americans?
      A Norwegian landed in North America 500 years before Columbus cruised the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
      Native Americans did not want to share our culture.
      It was jammed down their throats.
      Accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior or die.

    • They could learn that he was not the first European to visit the continent.

      I would invite any Italian-Americans who revere Columbus to look past that he is nominally Italian and learn about the child slavery for purposes too vile to mention, how he kidnapped women and “gave” them to his officers for mistreatment, how he directly ended at least one civilization and indirectly ended hundreds of others. They could learn that he was considered a monster even by the comparably lax attitudes of his time, that he was cashiered from his position as governor, and that he was dragged back to Spain in chains for his cruelty.

      And I would invite Times readers to consider how utterly odd it is that David felt it was necessary to attempt to blame native people for the wanton destruction of two continents of people by rapacious European cultures who cared only for gold and silver, and nothing for humanity. No, David, it did not “need to be said.”

  6. Are we simply going to ignore that someone on our Select Board didn’t know what indigenous means and who Indigenous People are? This is someone in a seat of power who represents Wampanoag residents and lives a 15 minute drive from Tribal Headquarters. I applaud Mr. Manter for bringing this issue up. I hope Mr. Healy takes time to educate himself on the subject.

    • Indigenous is not a commonly used word .
      Mr. Healy did not try to cover up his lack of knowledge.
      He tried to learn, and was successful.
      I am guessing that ~80% the US does not have a clear understanding of the meaning of the word indigenous

      • Albert, I agree with you that it’s good Mr. Healey asked the question. My concern is that this is different from catching up on something like a fiscal issue. I’m not sure people can really come to understand a complex cultural and historical matter in a week, at least not to the degree where voting on it can be done from a fully informed place. This is a small example of a bigger problem. Officials often make decisions for groups that they’re unfamiliar with. I hope he’ll speak with someone from Aquinnah to gather personal perspective on the topic.

  7. Here is an article that tells why Indigenous people want to change the name of the holiday that happens on the second Monday in October. Also Wikipedia explains why and lists the states and the large number of cities in America that have changed the name already. Thank you so much for doing some research into this sensitive topic. ❤️

    https://www.npr.org/2021/10/11/1044823626/indigenous-peoples-day-native-americans-columbus

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_Peoples%27_Day

  8. It’s not about the man, do you really want to change your own history? You cannot change reality. There was a famous socialist author warned you all in high school. His name was George Orwell, you ALL need to read “1984” one more time.

Comments are closed.