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Maine Becomes Latest State to Ditch Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Politics
Activists from New York's Indigenous and Black communities. Pacific Press / Contributor / Getty Images

Maine became at least the seventh state in the U.S. to replace Columbus Day with a day honoring America's first inhabitants on Friday when Governor Janet T. Mills signed a bill to renaming it Indigenous Peoples' Day, The New York Times reported.

Oregon, Minnesota, South Dakota, Alaska, North Carolina and New Mexico have all renamed the holiday that falls on the second Monday of October, as have at least 130 cities and towns.


'We are graciously appreciative of this measure that reflects a state that feels more welcoming and inclusive," Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana said at the signing, according to a statement from the governor's office. "As the original stewards of these lands and waters we are happy that our ancestral ties and contributions are validated and celebrated instead of silenced and ignored by the previous holiday that glorified the attempted genocide of our Nations. Our past can be painful but our present and future can be brighter with acts of unity and honesty."

There has been a growing movement to change the name of Columbus Day, which has been a federal holiday since 1934. Some activists say that celebrating it ignores the atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus and other European explorers against the indigenous people they encountered. A study released early this year found that so many Native Americans died from a combination of massacres and disease in the 16th and 17th centuries — around 56 million— that the earth's climate actually cooled 0.15 degrees Celsius as agricultural land was abandoned back to forests and other plants.

"Our history is by no means perfect. But, for too long, it has been written and presented in a way that fails to acknowledge our shortcomings," Mills said in a statement. "There is power in a name and in who we choose to honor. Today, we take another step in healing the divisions of the past, in fostering inclusiveness, in telling a fuller, deeper history, and in bringing the State and Maine's tribal communities together to build a future shaped by mutual trust and respect."

The bill to rename the day was sponsored by Portland Representative Benjamin Collings.

"I was privileged to bring this bill forward on behalf of Maine's tribal community," Collings said at the signing. "Maine's tribes have played a vital role in building our state and will continue to influence our future. I am grateful to Gov. Mills for signing this bill today and paying tribute to those who truly deserve it."

Dana told WGME that she had not expected the change to happen. The bill had failed to pass twice before.

"It's hard in a state like Maine where we do have a lot of racial tensions, we do have a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of gaps between groups, I think," Dana said.

The signing comes about a month and a half after Maine became the first state in the nation to stop using indigenous names and mascots in its schools, according to The Bangor Daily News. That was made official when the Skowhegan school board voted to stop using the nickname "Indians" for the district's high school on March 7.

"We can't rewrite history, but we can make it." board member Derek Ellis said of the vote.

South Dakota was the first state to abandon the Columbus Day name in 1990, replacing it with Native Americans' Day, according to The Argus Leader. Other states have adopted different solutions. Hawaii calls the day Discoverers' Day in honor of the ancient Polynesians who first arrived on the islands. Washington State honors no federal holiday on the second Monday of October, and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill this month dedicating the day both to Columbus and indigenous Americans, The New York Times reported. A bill to switch the day to Indigenous Peoples' Day has passed the Vermont state legislature but is yet to be signed.


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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.