The city of Gardiner may observe Indigenous Peoples Day next year, instead of Columbus Day, becoming the latest of several Maine communities either adopting such a resolution or considering it.

Mayor Thom Harnett has requested that elected city officials discuss the move at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, proposing the first observance in 2018.

“I have always been struck by the fact that we have set aside a day for a person who discovered a place where people already lived,” Harnett said, noting that Christopher Columbus, for whom the day was named, was not the first European to cross the Atlantic Ocean. While Columbus did reach Hispaniola, one of the islands in the Caribbean, he never set foot on what today is the United States.

“Maybe more important is that the treatment of indigenous people has been brutal,” Harnett said. “We should take a day and recognize the indigenous people who lived here for thousands of years (before Columbus’ arrival).”

Federal offices are closed on Columbus Day, and in Maine and Massachusetts, schools are closed. No mail is delivered.

In Maine, Portland, Brunswick, Bangor, Belfast, Orono and Starks observe Indigenous Peoples Day, but a bill, L.D. 914, to establish the observance statewide, died earlier this year in the Legislature.

The Gardiner City Council meets at 6 p.m., Wednesday in the City Council chamber in Gardiner City Hall at 6 Church St. The meetings are also livestreamed on the city’s website, gardinermaine.com.

Harnett said requesting the discussion was his idea and his view.

“I don’t want anyone to pin this on other members of the council,” he said.

In a goal-setting meeting in January, Harnett said he wanted Gardiner to be a welcoming city for immigrants, and that unleashed a backlash on him and members of the City Council by the Maine Republican Party. Jason Savage, executive director of the party, issued an email call to action that included the home telephone numbers of Harnett and the members of the City Council. City officials in Hallowell, which was considering a similar move at the time, were also identified in that email.

Harnett said he knows discussions like these attract a lot of anger and mis-characterization on social media.

“It is a part of our history that predates us,” he said. “I just don’t think the world begins when the people we look like get to a place.”

Columbus Day was celebrated in the United States as early as 1792, the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage east. The event was observed informally in the 19th and early 20th centuries. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established it as a federal holiday in 1937 and in 1971, the observance was set for the second Monday in October.

Across the country, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles and Austin have joined the ranks of cities that observe Indigenous Peoples Day.

Gardiner city elected officials are also expected to:

• hold a public hearing and have the second read of General Assistance Ordinance Amendments;

• consider liquor license renewal for the A1 Diner;

• consider approving City Council meeting minutes; and

• consider appointing Kala Ladenheim to the Ad Hoc Age Friendly Committee.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.