GARDINER — A divided City Council has agreed to push forward a discussion on whether to observe Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day starting next year.

At the direction of the council, interim City Manager Anne Davis will draft a resolution for public discussion at a future meeting.

In proposing the conversation, Mayor Thom Harnett said at Wednesday’s council meeting that he was proposing the discussion for a number of reasons, but politics isn’t one of them.

“My moral compass isn’t dictated by politics,” Harnett said.

Harnett said he wants to recognize the people who lived in North America before Europeans arrived. He noted that Columbus, who was jailed in Spain for his treatment of the native people he encountered, was not the first European to arrive in the New World, nor did he reach what is now the United States.

While councilors said they are willing to discuss the proposal, not all are in favor of it.

At-Large City Councilor Tim Cusick and District 4 City Councilor Philip Hart both said they were reluctant to see such a change made at the local level, particularly since a bill to establish the observance of Indigenous People’s Day statewide died in the Legislature earlier this year.

Hart said he would like to see the question put to city residents in a referendum.

“Are we trying to create recognition for indigenous peoples in a way that replaces Columbus Day?” District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry asked.

Berry said he had received two emails on the issue, one for and one against. While he said he’s in favor of having the discussion, he urged caution.

“It seems like in the last few years, people have come up with thoughts and ideas, and people jump on the bandwagon, but there’s no follow-through.”

The matter was put on the agenda as a discussion item for the council, so no public comment was expected. Even so, Harnett asked whether anyone in the audience wanted to comment.

Gardiner residents Curtis Ayotte and Matthew Marshall opted to wait until a public hearing is scheduled, but Eileen Hagerman, who serves on the Gardiner Historic Preservation Commission and is pursuing a doctorate in history from the University of Maine, said in a brief prepared statement that she’s in favor of the change.

The America that people love was not set in stone during the American Revolution or following the Civil War, Hagerman said. It is an idea that people have been willing to reassess from time to time.

Establishing an Indigenous Peoples Day doesn’t change the past, but it does present an opportunity for discussion, she said.

The council voted 5-2-1, with Cusick and Hart voting no and Berry abstaining, to have the resolution drafted.

As part of the process of considering the proposal, Harnett said two public hearings are anticipated. Interim City Manager Anne Davis said the proposed resolution may be scheduled for the Nov. 1 meeting.

In Maine, Starks, Portland, Brunswick, Bangor, Belfast and Orono observe Indigenous Peoples Day.

Even if Indigenous Peoples Day is observed in Gardiner, Columbus Day remains a federal holiday that will be observed on the second Monday in October, when federal government offices are closed, as are state offices and schools in Maine, and mail is not delivered.

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

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Twitter: @JLowellKJ