Mayor Hansel reads proclamation

Keene Mayor George Hansel reads the proclamation for the city's first Indigenous Peoples Day outside city hall Monday morning.

After residents petitioned for it earlier this year, today marks the Elm City’s first official Indigenous Peoples Day.

The Keene City Council renamed the holiday from Columbus Day in February to recognize and honor Indigenous people in the Monadnock Region and beyond.

“It’s really nice to hopefully do what we’re doing and have people exit from Columbus Day,” said Peter Majoy of Keene, who petitioned the City Council for the name change after learning more about explorer Christopher Columbus.

Columbus Day, which was first celebrated in San Francisco in 1868 and became a federal holiday in 1971, is intended to honor Columbus.

However, historians and some members of the public have criticized his enslavement, exploitation and sexual abuse of natives.

This has led to a national movement to scrap the explorer’s name and instead celebrate the Native people who were victimized by European colonization while critiquing the broader system of colonialism.

Fourteen states have adopted Indigenous Peoples Day, including Vermont and Maine, while efforts to change the holiday have stalled in the N.H. Legislature for the past two years.

Aside from Keene, at least three other New Hampshire communities — Durham, Hopkinton and Dover also mark the holiday.

Keene’s celebration began at 9 a.m. with Mayor George Hansel reading a proclamation from the steps of City Hall.

In addition to the education the day provides, Hansel said in an email it is “an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the descendants of indigenous peoples in order to celebrate and honor their ancestors.”

Majoy, who is a member of the Keene Immigration Refugee Partnership, a local advocacy group, said he planned to be in downtown Keene from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and again at 5 p.m., to pass out informational pamphlets on Indigenous Peoples Day and its importance.

With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the ways the city can celebrate, Majoy, 77, said still keeping people informed is “very, very important.”

Though he’s thrilled the holiday’s name has been changed, he said there is more work to be done for people to understand its importance.

“It would help if every once in a while we had some kind of gathering during the whole year, workshops in the community would be very important, and it would be a matter of helping people learn about Indigenous people and why they are so important,” Majoy said.

Jed Crook, a Keene State College alumnus who worked to get Indigenous Peoples Day recognized by the college, echoed Majoy. The college senate passed a resolution last year to honor the holiday, he said.

Crook, who now lives in Nashua, said he hopes the recognition isn’t just that, but inspires relationships and continued efforts to dismantle colonialism.

He explained he wants to reform school curriculums, change symbols that use Native Americans, return sacred land and seek input from Indigenous people as equal stakeholders.

Crook also pointed to a national study by Reclaiming Native Truth — a national social justice organization aimed at dispelling misconceptions of Native Americans — which found that 40 percent of Americans in 2018 did not believe Native Americans still exist.

“This active erasure is part of the continuing genocide that this name change hopefully calls out,” he said.

But, he added, he’s still “worried of it being lost by just a symbolic check box on good things to do, without any actual change.”

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.