Lawrence to hold hearing on renaming Columbus Day for indigenous people

Allison Corneau, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
·3 min read

Mar. 10—LAWRENCE — First, it was students at Lawrence Public Schools who convinced local leaders to change the school calendar to mark Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day in mid-October. Now, the City Council plans to hold a public hearing to see if city residents want to adopt an ordinance to follow suit.

Councilors recently voted to order a public hearing to determine if residents want to side with resident Frank Bonet, who petitioned the council to "rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day."

Bonet, who serves as the city's personnel director, filed the petition as a private citizen, according to City Councilor Jeovanny Rodriguez. Bonet did not attend the remote council meeting, leaving many unanswered questions.

Several councilors requested to table the request until Bonet could be available to answer additional questions related to his request — chief among them whether or not he was seeking a resolution or an ordinance.

Having seen an email submitted by Bonet with his request, Rodriguez attempted to explain a bit more to his colleagues.

"He is asking to change Columbus Day to be called a more proper day: Indigenous Peoples' Day," Rodriguez said. "A resolution is just an opinion of the City Council. A step forward is an ordinance. That would be only for the city of Lawrence. What we need to is order a public hearing. In his (request), he wants to promote equality in the city and he calls it an ordinance."

In order to adopt an ordinance, a public hearing must be held so that residents may offer feedback for or against an issue.

Since 1991, a growing number of states, communities and school districts have decided to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day. They have adopted the new holiday to support native inhabitants and take the focus off Columbus, who has long been given credit for "discovering" the New World — a place where people already lived.

The Lawrence Alliance for Education unanimously approved a request by public schools' Superintendent Cynthia Paris' student cabinet to rename the holiday on the school calendar last month. Students took a survey of 1,246 of their peers to see if the change would be welcomed and 57% of students were in favor of the swap.

Student Chantel Diaz said students proposing the change did research that shows history textbooks do not accurately portray Columbus.

"Christopher Columbus should not be celebrated in our school system," she said. "What we were taught about him in school isn't true. Looking into what really happened, we learned that there were native people living in North America before Columbus claimed it."

City Councilor Pavel Payano said he would like to see the city hold a hearing and move forward toward possible change.

"I would like to see this enacted," Payano said. "When the Lawrence Public Schools talk about Columbus, it's not that they don't talk about Columbus, it's that they say there were people here before Columbus. While the city does not have power over federal holidays, we do have power over vocabulary."

A date for the hearing has not yet been set.