The Portland City Council will vote Monday on a proposal to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Portland’s proposal to recognize indigenous people rather than Christopher Columbus comes a few weeks after the Bangor City Council voted to do the same.

Columbus Day, however, will remain a federal holiday. The council’s move is meant to highlight the culture and lives of the indigenous people who lived on the continent before it was colonized by western Europeans.

The resolution was sponsored by City Councilor Pious Ali and co-sponsored by five other councilors.

“This is not an attempt to change or erase history – it is an opportunity to start a conversation so that indigenous people in our city and state can lead in sharing their story through their own lens,” Ali said in an email. “This is an act to honor the people who have lived and nurtured this land we all call home, to learn and preserve history through another narrative.”

Recognizing indigenous people either on or around Columbus Day is a growing trend in the United States.


Belfast became the first Maine community to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2015, after the town council received a petition signed by 250 residents. Bangor became the second city in Maine late last month.

Neither effort faced significant public opposition. And there is no apparent opposition in Portland.

A bill to make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a state holiday did not advance in the Legislature this year.

A few states – Alaska, Oregon, South Dakota and Vermont – don’t recognize Columbus Day.

Ali said he decided to sponsor the resolution after participating in a workshop this year with the Maine-Wabanaki REACH program, which aims to improve the health and well-being of Wabanakis.

“After the workshop each of us was asked to make a commitment to do one thing that will shed light on the issues affecting indigenous people in Maine, that was my commitment,” Ali said.


According to the council’s resolution, the idea for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. It was a way to honor original people of colonized lands.

Western Europeans first came to Portland peninsula back in the 1600s, when it was a part of Falmouth.

Professor Emerson W. Baker, a historian who specializes in New England studies during the 1600s, serves in the board of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and is the interim dean of graduate studies at Salem State University.

Baker said little is known about the Wabanaki people who called this land home before Europeans explorers arrived in the early 1600s.

The Wabanakis, who called the Portland region “Aucocisco,” were ravaged by diseases from 1616-1619 introduced by seasonal explorers and fisherman, who engaged in trade with the Wabanakis.

“There are these encounters along the coast of Maine and unfortunately they’re unwittingly spreading disease,” Baker said. “As much as 90 percent of this (indigenous) population was wiped out from the virgin soil epidemics” in which the populations at risk had no previous exposure to the diseases.


Baker said wars with other tribes, including the Micmac, also devastated the Wabanaki population.

The first European home in Portland was built in 1632 on what is currently known as Hancock Street. Colonization didn’t begin in earnest until 1680, when Fort Loyal was built at the end of what is currently India Street, according to a History of Portland’s India Street Neighborhood.

Baker said the increasing number of settlers and the loss of tribal lands forced the Wabanaki to retreat inland and to the north.

It also led to armed confrontations with settlers.

In 1690, the Wabanakis destroyed the Fort Loyal settlement, but that did not deter the Europeans. By 1727, about 40 families were living at the end of what is currently India Street.

When asked if he was surprised that Portland hadn’t honored indigenous people sooner, Ali said, “I am a firm believer that everything happens at the right time and this is the time for this to happen.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: randybillings

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