HomeEducationSelect Board accepts DEI recommendations for Indigenous Peoples' Day

Select Board accepts DEI recommendations for Indigenous Peoples’ Day


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WESTFORD — After a divided vote and an official recount, the Select Board has voted to accept recommendations from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to implement Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Timeline of events

The Indigenous People’s Day question was first proposed as a Citizen’s Petition during a 2020 Special Town Meeting. The proposal failed to garner a majority, but the issue was later referred to the DEI committee for further review.

The Committee presented their findings to the Select Board to discuss proposed ballot language. Members of the Select Board unanimously approved the proposed ballot language to appear on the May 2 ballot.

A slim majority voted in favor of Indigenous People’s Day on May 2, with a recount reaffirming the results.

“The discussion right now is limited to how we move forward with this majority vote we’ve received with very specific wording and what exactly that will look like,” Select Board Chair Thomas Clay said during a June 27 meeting.

DEI recommendations

The DEI Committee recommended that Indigenous People’s Day be included on the second Monday of October in all Westford calendars, including the Westford Public School’s and the town website.

The holiday would replace all local references to Columbus Day.

The committee also recommended that the town work with Westford Public Schools and the J.V. Fletcher Library to “enhance educational content” around the holiday.

DEI would work with officials to plan events that celebrate the new holiday.

“This is certainly not an exhaustive list. We just want to make this recommendation and very much appreciate this opportunity,” DEI Co-Chair Joe Diamond said.

The original ballot question was a non-binding resolution, which allows the Select Board to modify recommendations regardless of the original results.

Select Board member John Cunningham proposed an amendment to remove “superseding local references to Columbus Day” from the recommendation, which would keep both holidays on the calendar. The motion failed to garner additional support.

The board later voted 4-1 to accept the recommendations as presented, with Cunningham voting against the proposal, aiming to have both holidays on the calendar.

“Had [the vote] it been the other way, we would have found a day for Indigenous People’s Day,” Cunningham said.

Board member Andrea Peraner-Sweet responded, “but we wouldn’t have ignored the vote.”

Cunningham responded, “We could have. This is an advisory, that’s the reason we passed it and we put it on the ballot because it was an advisory., I’m taking that advice and saying ‘OK I see that, but I don’t agree with 100% of the advice that we got.”

Residents share opinions

Advocates for Columbus Day cited a number of issues with the measure, including bias within the original ballot question.

“I did say the question was too long and too biased, [in the question] so if someone votes for Columbus Day, it’s almost as if they’re for genocide,” resident and First Middlesex Sate Republican Committeewoman Kathy Lynch said.

She added, “that is so wrong to put people in that kind of situation.”

Others wanted both holidays recognized on the calendar and believed that renaming Columbus Day would “initiate a culture change” within the community.

“Columbus Day is not a celebration of Columbus the individual,” resident Anthony DiLeo said. “Just like Christmas is not a celebration of Santa Claus.”

He added, “Columbus Day was put in to place to commemorate the discrimination, persecution and murder of Italians in the late 19th Century. The question before us tonight is whether persecution and discrimination of any one group should supersede that of another group.”

Resident Marcia Young also questioned whether the Select Board or DEI Committee had consulted with the Indigenous population on the decision.

“My guess is that this is an insult to them [Indigenous people]. They should have their own day. To give them Columbus Day is a slap in the face,” she said.

However, Diamond responded that the holiday is not meant to ignore any group’s history, instead it is meant to “shine a new light on history.”

“It gives everybody the opportunity to examine in a critical, nuanced way that era,” he said.

Diamond says he is pleased with the results and that it “was a good process.”

“We covered a lot of new ground,” he said.

Managing Editor Ben Domaingue contributed to the reporting of this piece. 

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Melanie Duronio
Melanie Duronio
Melanie Duronio is a student at Mount Holyoke College studying English. In her spare time, Melanie enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her friends and family.

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