Aquinnah approves change to Indigenous Peoples Day

Home of the Aquinnah Wampanoag becomes the first to officially endorse the holiday’s replacement.

The Aquinnah select board gave their approval towards replacing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. — Eunki Seonwoo

The Aquinnah select board gave their approval of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in a unanimous vote Tuesday. The symbolic approval during Tuesday’s select board meeting made Aquinnah, current home base of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the first town to officially endorse Indigenous Peoples Day. 

“Clearly, if there’s any town in Massachusetts that should be designated Indigenous Peoples Day, it’s Aquinnah,” select board member Tom Murphy said. “We take great pride in that. That’s the DNA of this community.”

Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison said the change should occur through an amendment in the town’s personnel policies. 

“It’s pretty much a symbolic motion,” Madison said. “If we’re going to do it, it may require a town meeting approval. That’s what has been done in the past for personnel policy changes.” 

Select board member Gary Haley said Aquinnah’s counsel should be consulted to see what needs to be done to make it official. 

The West Tisbury select board also considered changing the October holiday, but gave one of its board members more time to consider it. The board was expected to renew its discussion as The Times went to press Wednesday.

In other holiday news, the board unanimously approved establishment of Cranberry Day. Cranberry Day will need to go through the same process as Indigenous Peoples Day to become a local holiday. 

In other business, climate and energy committee chair Bill Lake presented town bylaw changes to support Aquinnah’s renewable energy goals. The Island has a goal of eliminating fossil fuel use by 2040, with Aquinnah being the second town to accept the goal. Lake said there are two main steps needed to make this goal a reality: converting fossil fuel usage to electricity, such as heating and cooling buildings and transportation, and making sure the electricity comes from renewable sources. Lake said the latter is a statewide issue. “We can do everything we can to support solar and wind, and the state is trying to get hydropower from Canada,” Lake said. “But that will be a longer-term issue.”

Lake said the town has also been working toward “electrifying its energy use.” Aquinnah Town Hall installed mini split heating and cooling systems with the Green Communities Designation Grant funding. Aquinnah also has electric vehicle charging stations, and a hybrid police cruiser. However, the town government uses a small portion of the energy in Aquinnah. Most of it is used by private residences. Lake said the committee has been trying to get Aquinnah residents to convert to electric power through various outreach campaigns, such as informing people about federal and Massachusetts tax credits for buying an electric vehicle. 

The bylaw changes proposals focused on converting fossil fuel usage to electricity and increasing electric power usage in Aquinnah, particularly private residents. The first proposed amendment would make all new or substantially remodelled construction projects use electric heating, cooling, and hot water. The second amendment asks all new or substantial remodelling projects to be built with an electric vehicle outlet on the property. 

“We’ve found that many builders and homeowners are not aware of the advantages of going electric,” Lake said. Building houses with an electric model is cheaper, and can save a family $350 a year compered with propane power, according to Lake. Additionally, an electric vehicle can be charged overnight at home if an outlet is available. 

Current homeowners will not be required to install heat pumps or electric vehicle outlets. 

Lake said the proposed amendments will most likely require a home rule petition because of the limited authority Massachusetts towns and cities have.

The proposed bylaw changes and report were accepted and approved unanimously by the select board. The proposed changes will soon go to the Aquinnah planning board for review.

Meanwhile, Aquinnah is looking to appoint someone to become a town representative on the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District. Madison said Aquinnah should have had two refuse district board members, according to an agreement made by the towns. All of the other towns have two members on the refuse district board. The position will be advertised on the town’s website after the select board discusses appointment details with the Aquinnah board of health. 


  1. I don’t understand why our tribal leaders would want to have to subjugate themselves to celebrating a “date” that may only mean something to Italian Americans and Europeans? With their rich history and obvious proprietary right to the land in this country I would think it would help educate non-indigenous people if they picked a date in their history that meant something important to them so we can all learn more about their heritage. It would truly serve us all and give us all something to unite around versus an “us versus them” issue. I’m soooo tired of the “us” versus “them”
    mentality surrounding almost every issue I’m this country. I pray others are as well.🙏🏻

    • That date does mean something to us. It is the date that this country celebrated a man who started the sex trafficking, slave trade, and genocide in this half of the world. In spite of his and all the efforts of the Spanish, English, Portuguese colonizers, US, Canadian, Mexican, and South American Government efforts to eradicate us; We are still here. It is a day to remember that. Just because folks are tired of hearing about it doesn’t mean they get to erase what we as a people survived. I do understand it may make non-indigenous people uncomfortable to be reminded of the heinous crimes that were committed so that they could occupy the land here. I get that it may even make folks question what they learned in history class. The facts are “they” did their best to assimilate and eradicate “us” and they failed. (But did succeed in causing a lot of damage) Did you know that just this year the US and Canada have been forced to look for mass graves at Indian Residential Schools and they have found over 1,300 children in only 4 of the schools they have searched so far? People don’t even know the extent of what happened and yet people want us not to talk about it and move on as if it didn’t happen? This is exactly why we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. It isn’t about you learning about us. Its about recognizing the harm that was done and celebrating our strength to survive and our resiliency to hold on to what we could. I don’t think there is any other day that would be more appropriate. I don’t see why non-indigenous folks can’t join and unite in that kind of recognition and celebration.

  2. Jennifer. As I said, indigenous people are free to choose what days and why they choose to celebrate them but based on your comment your motivation for wanting to reserve what is known as “Columbus” day has more to do with what feels like a palatable anger and regret for what you feel Columbus did versus a celebration of your own heritage. As a Christian I just still feel all of our motivations should be initiated from a place of love versus anger and hate but this is clearly a position for you to choose. God Bless. 🙏🏻

    • Aquinnah made an intentional, positive choice here. To describe a culturally informed decision as self-subjugation by tribal leaders seems incredibly disrespectful. That’s a message of love? I can’t understand how this change fits the definition of subjugation at all. It’s the opposite.

      Though teaching others is not the sole purpose of the day, IPD has already been educational for those who wanted to participate. I saw plenty of history being shared this year. It was really supportive, with people from many different backgrounds taking interest. If others would like to learn about Indigenous traditions, that’s great. Access to information has never been easier to come by or more abundant, but you have to seek it out.

      Jennifer’s comment is founded in facts and there’s no hatred that I detected. I don’t see how it’s your place to judge or categorize her motivation. You can be a peaceful, loving person while taking a stand against horrors of the past. I’d say doing precisely that is the compassionate path.

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