Maine officially adopted Indigenous Peoples Day, celebrated this past Monday, in April of last year. Brunswick was even earlier, making the change from Columbus Day back in 2017 (along with several other Maine towns), though the United Nations beat us all to it back in 1977.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

This is a good thing. Italian culture has given us many fine humans to honor – Christopher Columbus, a murderous, genocidal man isn’t one. For the record, humanitarian crimes aside,  Columbus doesn’t earn the other credits either. He didn’t set out to “discover America,” never actually understood exactly where he had landed and wasn’t anywhere near the first person to understand the world is round. It was sort of common knowledge by his day, although “flat Earthers” were having a moment in Europe. He even owned the “go-to” book on topic. So let’s retire the concept of honoring him.

However, there are boundless reasons to recognize, honor and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities, because even though the official holiday may be a  day or few behind us, it’s still worth celebrating.

Renée Gokey, a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and the teacher services coordinator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.,  compiled a fantastic list of ideas in her article “5 Ideas for Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in 2020,” available on the Smithsonian’s website.

Another great idea is to learn more about the land on which we are all actually living. A project known as Native Land has a really neat interactive map at native-land.ca that will show you what Indigenous tribes lived where. All of the place now defined as Maine is on Wabanaki territory, but this map lets you learn more specifics. I now know, for example, that my home sits on Nanrantsouak and Abanaki territory. I am aware that some people find this information unsettling or threatening in some way. History often is. However, there is great power in coming to grips with reality, acknowledging truths and moving forward together.

Here in Maine, we are often extremely fortunate to have the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor as a resource. With a mission to “inspire new learning about the Wabanaki Nations with every visit,” the museum highlights Wabanaki history, cultural practices, art, literature and contemporary issues facing Wabanaki communities – and all of us as a whole.

Finally, I’d suggest settling in with a great book written by an Indigenous author. There are a lot from which to choose, both for adults and kiddos. One fantastic list can be found at Book Marks, a literary website, but a simple Google search will bring you plenty more.

I hope you and yours had a marvelous Indigenous Peoples Day. Here’s hoping that in the not-so-distant future, we won’t need to set aside one day a year, but will see, honor and celebrate Indigenous people every single day.

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