Support for celebrating Arlington's original inhabitants

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019
Wording about acknowledging land faces questions.

UPDATED, Jan. 28: Indigenous Peoples Day, which would replace the annual October celebration of Christopher Columbus, drew unanimous support from the Select Board late Monday, Jan. 25.

"It's time to do this," said board member Joseph Curro Jr., who moved to approve the measure. "Long overdue." Colleagues supported him.

The motion came after impassioned pleas from Drake Pusey, cochair of the Human Rights Commission; two residents with Native-American roots and two members of the Dallin Art Museum board.

The resolution faces some work. Some of its wording drew questions about the wording asking all town public meetings to include this land acknowledgment at the beginning of each session:

“We acknowledge that the Town of Arlington is located on the ancestral lands of the Massachusett Tribe, the tribe of Indigenous peoples from whom the Colony, Province, and Commonwealth have taken their names. We pay our respects to the ancestral bloodline of the Massachusett Tribe and their descendants who still inhabit historic Massachusett territories today.”

Native leader responds

Member Len Diggins, who seconded the motion, asked about origins of Columbus Day and whether the resolution could be edited.

Mahtowin Munro, a Lakota and an Arlington resident who co-leads United American Indians of New England, said Columbus Day's lengthy history was "intended to create a sense of national unity among white people."

"Does the land belong to everyone?" Diggins asked, referring to what white settlers called Menotomy in 1635.

Munro said the indigenous people had no concept of land ownership when the Pilgrims landed, but there was a concept of territory. "We don't own it, but we are caretakers of land," said Munro.

'A step forward'

"This is a step forward," Diggins said of the resolution, adding that he is "a both-and sort of person." He said he preferred merging the two holidays.

Munro shook her head.

Diggins called wording that would be a preamble to every meeting "problematic." He said he would like to see much more inclusive preamble and that he would prefer not to have to read it at each meeting.

In response to queries from member Steve DeCourcey, Munro said such a resolution has been introduced via the state Legislature.

DeCourcey whether Town Meeting could expect to see the same language as in the resolution under discussion. Pusey responded that he had submitted four proposed articles, and it included the land-acknowledgment measure.

DeCourcey said he backs the motion, but favors separating the land acknowledgment from it. Mahon agreed with him.

Language suggestions

Board Chair John Hurd suggested language changes in an attempt to get all to agree. His amended language (changes in bold) : "Resolved that all town entities are encouraged to celebrate and recognize the heritage of the peoples indigenous to Massachusetts and Arlington by including a land acknowledgement at the beginning of certain designated Town public meetings in substantially the same form as the below referenced example." 

“We acknowledge that the Town of Arlington is located on the ancestral lands of the Massachusett Tribe, the tribe of Indigenous peoples from whom the Colony, Province, and Commonwealth have taken their names. We pay our respects to the ancestral bloodline of the Massachusett Tribe and their descendants who still inhabit historic Massachusett territories today.”

Curro said he was happy to amend his motion. The vote, at 11:30 p.m., was 5-0.

Speaking in support of the measure during citizen comment were Sarah Burks, representing the town-appointed board of the Dallin Art Museum, and Heather Leavell, director of the museum who has lectured on the connection between sculptor Cyrus Dallin and native people. See Burks's statement >>

Jillian Harvey, town director of diversity, equity and inclusion, helped fashion the resolution with co-chairs of the Human Rights Commission, Hina Jolin and Pusey.

Pusey introduced the resolution, saying its purpose is to support indigenous people and change the focus of what has been called Columbus Day.

Danielle Kost of Arlington, who said she is Algonquin, told, amid some tears a personal story. In 1955, her family members who lived on a First Nation reservation in Canada, were forcibly separated and abused under that country's polices of the time. She said mother was gone for a decade. She said the resolution would be "a meaningful acknowledgment of our history.

Curro made clear that he is not the first Arlington Select Board member of Italian background, but he offered personal background to illustrate his understanding of the matter: "My grandfather worked in mines of Scranton, Pa., to bring family over [from Italy] .... He had a choice. Others were compelled."

See the ACMi video of the Jan. 25 meeting:


Jan. 26, 2021: Read the full resolution here >>

Jan. 20, 2021: Black Lives Matter banner’s future under discussion

 


This news summary was published Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, and updated Jan. 29, to add ACMi video window.

 

 
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