MANCHESTER, N.H. – Anyone celebrating Indigenous People’s Day will have to wait a little bit before the Queen City decides to join them officially.
On a unanimous voice vote, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) moved to study establishing Indigenous People’s Day as a holiday in committee, following two failed votes to pass a resolution that would have established the day as an official holiday in the city.
While the Aldermen did not disagree with the concept of honoring indigenous people, a variety of reasons to oppose the resolution sprung from multiple parts of the board.
The resolution (see below), proposed by several members of the public at the Sept. 1 BMA meeting and introduced by Alderman Pat Long (Ward 3) on Tuesday, sought to make Manchester the fifth municipality to celebrate the holiday on the second Monday in October, following Durham (2017), Hopkinton (2017), Keene (2020) and Dover (2020).
Four people spoke in favor of the resolution during public comment, including Granite State Organizing Project Faith Community Organizer Chris Potter.
“In school, I was never taught the complete history of colonists and indigenous people, but I should have been. To create a more understanding and accepting community, we need to teach this history,” he said.
While the resolution did not explicitly seek to replace Columbus Day, which also occurs on the second Monday in October, background material referenced ten states that have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day as well as two bills in the New Hampshire legislature that would seek to add the Granite State to that list.
That added information led some Aldermen such as Anthony Sapienza (Ward 5) and Mike Porter (Ward 8) to wonder whether the resolution’s intention was to celebrate indigenous people or to overshadow what is seen as a celebration for Italian-Americans. Sapienza, an Italian-American, went as far to call the proposal an insult and jokingly added that he would support the resolution if the holiday were celebrated on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) instead.
Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) instead felt that Aug. 9 was a better date as this was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples according to the United Nations, also believing that the resolution had secret motives.
“Don’t sit there and tell me this isn’t a way to replace Columbus Day,” he said.
Elizabeth Moreau (Ward 6) also supported separating the holiday from Columbus Day, but did not indicate a day she preferred.
Jim Roy (Ward 4) supported the concept of the holiday, but felt the issue should go through committee like any other matter coming before the board, disagreeing that this matter qualified as an emergency despite that only six days remained until the second Monday of October this year.
Long felt the holiday was important to honor the Native American heritage and Barbara Shaw (Ward 9) challenged assertions that Columbus Day was a distinctly Italian-American day in Manchester, indicating that she had never seen any celebrations in the city and that most people would not know Columbus Day existed if it were not a federal holiday.
Mayor Joyce Craig also noted that the city could not remove Columbus Day as a holiday, as that is within the purview of the state and federal governments.
A motion to make the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day failed by a vote of 9-4. Shaw and Long supported the motion along with Will Stewart (Ward 2) and Bill Barry (Ward 10). Porter, Levasseur, Sapienza, Moreau and Roy were joined by Kevin Cavanaugh (Ward 1), Ross Terrio (Ward 7), Keith Hirschmann (Ward 12) and Dan O’Neil (At-Large). Normand Gamache (Ward 11) was absent.
That was followed by a motion to follow Levasseur’s recommendation of placing the holiday on Aug. 9, which faced opposition from Shaw and others on the board who questioned whether it would honor the wishes of those who advocated for the resolution.
The Aug. 9 motion failed 7-6. Sapienza, Moreau, Terrio, Porter, Hirshmann and Levasseur voted in favor. Cavanaugh, Stewart, Long, Roy, Shaw, Barry and O’Neil voted in opposition. Gamache was absent.