The second Monday in October has typically been reserved to commemorate Christopher Columbus, but the Chelsea Public Schools have scrapped any commemoration of the Italian explorer, and instead will commemorate the District’s first-ever Indigenous Peoples Day.
The School Committee voted in a narrow vote last December, 5-4, to ditch Columbus Day as a holiday and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day instead. It was championed by Chair Kelly Garcia, and she said it came at the suggestion of AP History students at Chelsea High School (CHS) that felt Columbus and his crews had committed too many atrocities to native peoples to be celebrated.
Garcia said she is glad the District is embracing the new holiday, and has heard that teachers across the system are including it in their curriculum this week in the run-up to the Oct. 12 holiday.
“I am so excited this is the first year we get to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in our schools,” she said. “I know staff and students are also excited…I think teaching our students the real history and what really happened many years ago is important…The students deserve to know the truth and to know their people were brutalized and slaughtered and tortured. We shouldn’t be celebrating a man responsible for that.”
She said they had hoped to have a school-wide parade and events associated with the first Indigenous Peoples Day, but COVID-19 restrictions have put a damper on that. Instead, she said they will resume those plans next year and include numerous student voices and teacher voices to commemorate the true history of what happened.
Supt. Almi Abeyta said teachers across the district are gravitating to the new holiday, and are working hard to explain it to the children and teen-agers – particularly through the lens of racial equity that has been such a strong subject over the summer and fall.
“I see staff teaching about Indigenous Peoples Day,” she said. “I know because of the manner of everything going on in our world with equity and ensuring that we’re uplifting voices, our staff are making very, very explicit efforts to call it Indigenous Peoples Day and refer to it as a celebration. It is our first celebration of that day. Our staff is teaching about it and explaining the narrative and the meaning behind the day.”