Portsmouth adopts Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day
The city of Portsmouth will no longer recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday. The city council voted 8 to 1 last week to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Leading the multi-year effort behind this change is a student social justice club at Portsmouth High School called We speak. Rookie Olivia Annunziata Blaisdell is one of the club’s main organizers and she spoke with All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Julia Furukawa: So, Olivia, what do you think of the council’s decision to finally recognize Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day?
Olivia Anunziata Blaisdell: I’m so glad we were able to finally get this through. A few members of WE Speak from two years ago were working a lot on this. I was really happy to pick up those efforts and really push through that time. I’m so glad we were able to do this for Portsmouth.
Julia Furukawa: So why is it important to recognize this holiday as Indigenous Peoples Day and not Columbus Day?
Olivia Anunziata Blaisdell: Thus, Columbus Day has been celebrated for a long time. It was when Italian-Americans began to immigrate to Americaand it was important to them feel they had a connection to the lands they were moving to. And so Columbus was the person they decided to celebrate. But with what we know now, reading Columbus’ diaries and the memories of the people he was with, we have come to understand that he started a real genocide of the people who were already here. Instead of acknowledging someone who caused so much harm to the aboriginal people who were here, who took care of this land that we are blessed to live on now, I think we should pay tribute and honor those people who were here before us and who cultivated this land so that we could still be here and live here.
Julia Furukawa: So what’s next for WE Speak? What are your goals as the next school year approaches?
Olivia Anunziata Blaisdell: We hope the city and school board will begin to take more concrete and intentional action on this issue. For example, it is enough to have a land recognition before each meeting or public recognitions of the land. Stuff like that. Something that shows we are actually taking action to recognize Indigenous people instead of just saying it and doing nothing. I think another thing that we would really like to see happen is that aboriginal people are brought into the Portsmouth 400, which is coming up, because even though it marks 400 years of Portsmouth being kind of what it is now, I think we have to remember that there were people here before us. And I think that’s something that really needs to be brought up and brought to light.
Julia Furukawa: You are a freshman in high school. I wonder why you think it’s important to make sure young people’s voices are included in local politics?
Olivia Anunziata Blaisdell: I think it’s important because young people are the next generation. Because I think a lot of young people – either my age or younger or a little older – don’t understand that just because, you know, we’re not the mayor or the president, we can always do something . Everyone matters. Everyone’s voice should count. And they can make a change if they want.