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Columbus Day celebration held on Westford Common, proposed ballot question delayed until May

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WESTFORD — A number of Westford residents and organizations gathered on the town common to celebrate Columbus Day on Monday.

Anthony DiLeo, an organizer of the event, described the event as a celebration of the holiday and of Christopher Columbus’ voyage in 1492.

“The intent is to provide a historical perspective, highlighting both the positives and negatives of Christopher Columbus’ travel to the Americas,” DiLeo told WestfordCAT.

The event saw speakers from the Knights of Columbus, the Italian-American Alliance and the Sons and Daughters of Italy.

The flag flown during Columbus’ voyage was also temporarily raised on the town common.

Ballot questions seeks to change holiday name

A recently proposed ballot question to replace Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day that was originally slated to appear on a Nov. 8 ballot has been delayed until next year.

“After consulting with town counsel, we learned that this ballot question can only appear on the annual local election,” said Select Board Chair Andrea Peraner-Sweet in a Sept. 27 meeting. Because the election in November is considered a special local election, the Indigenous People’s Day question cannot appear on a special local election.”

The question, which is non-binding, cannot appear on a Special Town Election ballot under state law.

The question was put forward by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee after voters rejected a Citizen’s Petition 111 to 108 to rename the holiday. The vote also referred the resolution to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee for further consideration.

“The formulation of the language is separate from any arguments and justifications. Our objective is to get as close to the point as possible of saying ‘yes or no’ and capturing a little bit of why the issue has been placed on many town and state ballots,” said DEI Committee chair Eric Barber-Mingo.

He continued, “the question itself is not meant to be a position statement, but to give the basic rationale as to why this has become an issue.”

Voters will have the opportunity to decide on the following ballot question:

“Shall the Westford Select Board declare the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, superseding local references to Columbus Day, and recommend that it be observed by the people of Westford, with appropriate exercises in the schools and otherwise, to acknowledge the history of genocide and discrimination against Indigenous peoples, and to recognize and celebrate the thriving cultures and continued resistance and resilience of Indigenous peoples and their tribal nations?”

Proposed question draws contention from residents

On Aug. 2, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted a virtual listening session where residents voiced concerns over renaming the holiday. A survey was also conducted earlier this year, where approximately 64% of the 782 respondents opposed renaming the holiday.

Opponents cited historic discrimination against Italian-Americans and cancel culture as reasons to oppose the measure.

“Cancel culture has over-reached in its quest to generalize our culture and history. Denying its existing does nothing to create cooperation among ethnic groups and cultures,” wrote Westford resident Dan Daddieco in an Aug. 23 email to the Select Board. “It achieves the exact opposite.”

Some opponents also believe renaming the holiday would be divisive to some residents in town.

“It is divisive to replace Columbus Day with a holiday recognizing a different group of people,” wrote Westford resident Cathy Creed in an Aug. 23 email to the Select Board.

Proponents of the change noted loss from genocide, forced assimilation and genocide as a reason to support the change.

“A lot of Indigenous people choose not to participate in conversations about Columbus Day. Its not because we don’t feel strongly one way or the other, its because it’s salt in the wound to listen to people perpetuate untruths and demonize the ancestors bolster the argument in order to support Columbus Day after losing so much to genocide,” wrote Nulhegan Abenaki Citizen and Westford resident Jill Cressy-Gross in an Aug. 23 email to the Select Board.

She continued, “I can understand where people’s emotion comes from when faced with losing something that they have been brought up with. But by the same token, it pales in comparison to what Indigenous people have lost and are still fighting to hold onto.”

The question is slated to appear on the May 2, 2023 Town Election ballot.

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Ben Domaingue
Ben Domainguehttps://www.clippings.me/bendomaingue
Ben Domaingue has previously worked at newspapers in New Hampshire and is the Managing Editor covering Westford. He’s passionate about community journalism, photography and hiking. Email him at bdomaingue@westfordcat.org.