Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Coming to a Natick calendar near you?

Bob Brown

Dec 28, 2021

Even as we speed toward Christmas and New Year’s, the holiday talk raised at the past two School Committee meetings has focused on the possibility of recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day (and its various spellings) rather than Columbus Day going forward.

The School Committee’s review of 2022-2023 Natick Public Schools calendar has in part raised the issue, which is one that communities across the state and country have grappled with in recent years upon closer review of history.

Nearby, the town of Wellesley this year, after lengthy and often contentious debate, formally switched from recognizing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October. Opponents to the change argued for celebrating Italian heritage on the second Monday in October and honoring Indigenous People on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Natick has made numerous moves in recent years to address how Native Americans are depicted and acknowledged in town, from the mural at the downtown post office to the town seal, which is being reconsidered via a formal committee now. That Natick Historical Society has documented and promoted the history of Native Americans in this area.

Natick’s Select Board has been keeping its eyes on activity at the state level to formally acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

natick school calendar
The issue of formally recognizing Indigenous Peoples’s Day was discussed at both the Dec. 15 (about 30 minutes into the Natick Pegasus recording) and Dec. 20 Natick School Committee meetings. Currently, school calendars list “Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day” (being changed to “Peoples'”), though School Committee member Dr. Donna McKenzie proposed at the Dec. 15 meeting that the schools “just get rid of the Columbus Day and go with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. If the library does it, the School Department can do it, and there are other departments in town that do it too. It seems like it’s high time.”

McKenzie did raise the issue of what sort of reaction Natick’s Italian community might have to such change. On a related note, she proposed that land acknowledgement could be the subject of future discussion.

School Committee Henry Haugland asked Natick Public Schools Supt. Dr. Anna Nolin during the Dec. 15 meeting if the committee might be able to get a presentation at some point from the schools on “the kind of information presented to our students on New England Indigenous Peoples and our history…” His concern is that students are unaware of Natick’s tragic history involving Native Americans sent to Deer Island. Nolin said genocide and Indigenous Peoples are subjects of the schools’ history curricula, and added at the Dec. 20 meeting that a summary of the teachings will be shared with the committee.

As noted at that meeting (about 32 minutes into the Natick Pegasus recording), a letter drafted by McKenzie is being finalized for discussion and possible approval at the next School Committee meeting, slated for Jan. 10. The intention is to send it to the Select Board if approved.

One member of the public, a longtime Natick resident and full tribal member of the Patawomeck Indians of Virgnia, called in during the Dec. 15 meeting to encourage Natick to take action on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, acknowledging that “these conversations aren’t easy.”

More comments from the public and discussion among committee members could ensue at the Jan. 10 School Committee meeting. Committee Chair Julie McDonough proposed that the letter be posted on the next agenda so that the public can view it.