AUGUSTA — As Maine celebrates its first Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, Maine tribal officials and advocates are pushing for tangible changes outside of symbolic changes made this year.

Native American advocate Sherri Mitchell, who was born on the Penobscot reservation, spoke at two services Sunday morning at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta. She said her appearances were especially poignant due to the first edition of Indigenous Peoples Day in Maine.

In changing the name of the holiday, “we make an acknowledgment of the inaccuracies of our shared history and make a move towards righting those inaccuracies by shifting from the celebration of a man who had committed horrific genocidal acts against the indigenous peoples of the Americans and actually never stepped foot here on this continent,” Mitchell said.

“And we begin to acknowledge the great loss and incredible sufferings that have happened here in this place by acknowledging all of the millions of indigenous peoples who had been lost during the conquest of the Americas.”

In April, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill changing the Oct. 14 holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Mills, a Democrat who clashed with the tribes during her time as Maine’s attorney general, has vowed to work toward better relations between the state and tribes.

Wade Lola, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribal Council, said he was excited by the change. He said he was grateful to the people who helped through the legislation.


“I know it’s been a little touchy subject,” he said. “To me, it shows a little bit of respect to our tribe and to our native people of Indian Township.”

News regarding Native Americans relations in Maine has been prevalent in 2019. In March, the school board in Skowhegan voted 14-9 to retire the “IndianS” sports nickname after a yearslong controversy over the name. Tensions surrounding the change still remain high, with some people still defending the mascot and others urging that everyone move on.

Mitchell called these two changes “largely symbolic.” She said the changes symbolize the recognition from “the colonizing population” are “willing to look at indigenous people as human beings.”

“The significance is enormous, however, it’s still largely symbolic,” she said, “and there needs to be corresponding action in the real world in order to back that up.”

Mitchell urged that the people put pressure on their state legislators to support laws that help prosecute crimes against Native American women. She said Mills has yet to sign a bill that passed through the Maine Legislature that would a bill that would give Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes jurisdiction over some domestic violence cases. She also advocated for speaking out against the taking of lands and rights to tribal waters by the state.

“What we need is for the governor to put her pen where he good optics have been and sign the bill,” she said. “The territorial rights of indigenous people are still being attacked.”


Earlier this month, Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro read a proclamation that Oct. 14 would be called Columbus Day in the city. The proclamation praised Christopher Columbus as “a skilled navigator and man of faith who President Benjamin Harrison described as a ‘pioneer of progress and enlightenment.’”

The proclamation drew criticism from speakers Oct. 1 at the Waterville City Council meeting.

The Morning Sentinel reported Italian-Americans wanted to make Columbus Day a holiday to celebrate their contributions to the development of American society. Isgro called the holiday “pro-immigrant,” saying it started after Italian-Americans in the United States were lynched.

On Monday, people are expected to gather at 5:30 p.m. on the steps of Waterville City Hall to show support for Native Americans. Guest speakers will include Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation Tribal ambassador; State Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville; U.S. Senate candidate Betsy Sweet; and Colby College student Kale Sapiel, a member of the Wabinaki tribe.

Colby College’s Museum of Art held a week of programming leading up to Indigenous Peoples Day. It featured work from Native Americans from what is now Maine and Maritime Canada.

Christopher Columbus came from Genoa, an independent maritime republic and mercantile empire, and he sailed under the Spanish flag. The country that became Italy was not established until 1861 — more than 350 years after his famous 1492 voyage — so it is unlikely that Columbus thought of himself as an Italian.


Columbus’ brutality is documented in his own journal, according to an article from October 1975 titled “Columbus and Genocide” in American Heritage magazine.

Lola said he had not heard about Isgro’s proclamation because he does not have social media accounts. When Lola read a portion of the proclamation, he said Isgro was entitled to his opinion — whether it is “right or wrong.”

“You can’t take away what Columbus did, but Native Americans have been here for thousands of here,” he said. “Yeah, he was a traveler and an explorer and let’s leave it at that.”

Maulian Dana, Penobscot County Tribal ambassador, said she understood why the holiday’s changes were met with some opposition.

“When people feel like they’re doing something wrong, it’s human nature to get defensive,” she said.

Dana said her community never celebrated the Oct. 14 holiday, opting to go to work or school on the day. Now, she said, the change puts everybody on “equal footing” and could be a catalyst for other changes, including improved recognition of tribal sovereignty.

“We aren’t going to celebrate a state holiday that celebrated our demise,” she said. “(The change) really corrects the historical narrative and makes indigenous people more visible.”

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