WATERVILLE, Maine — The mayor of Waterville, Nick Isgro, wants to keep the Columbus Day name despite Maine lawmakers deciding to replace the holiday with Indigenous Peoples' Day earlier this year.
Maine joined a growing number of states when Gov. Janet Mills signed bill LD 179 on April 26, giving the holiday a new name to honor Native Americans. Mills said adopting the bill was another step in healing the divisions of the past and said she hoped it would encourage better relations between the tribes and state government.
Isgro read his proclamation at the Oct. 1 meeting of Waterville's City Council.
Isgro's Columbus Day Proclamation pays homage to Christopher Columbus who sailed to America on behalf of Spain in 1492, hailing him as a "pioneer" and praising his "courage." Isgro wants Waterville residents to honor Columbus as well on October 14.
Maine Tribal Chiefs said changing the holiday's name was an important symbol, and added their hope that having Indigenous Peoples' Day will lead to more understanding of the history and culture of the four tribes in Maine and their role in the state's history.
The proclamation was met with mixed reviews from residents and councilors. A couple people applauded the Mayor's decision, saying Isgro was standing up for what is right. However, most residents in attendance were quick to shut the decision down. They feel this goes against everything people have been fighting for when it comes to recognizing the pain and suffering Christopher Columbus and his men inflicted on the native people of the Americas.
"It has been a problem every single year since it was first introduced," one resident said. "I'm glad we are finally getting to a point that more than just the indigenous people are talking about it and we can actually have a conversation."
"Some people might see this proclamation as a defiant gesture to the Maine legislature or to the Governor or whatever the case may be," another said. "I fear that many more will view it as a city that is out of touch with the rest of the American society and may think twice about living here or starting business here."
"I recognize this is your right to make this proclamation but I really question the choice to make proclamations that truly are intended to divide and not unite." one resident said.
Isgro says keeping the name 'Columbus Day' is about celebrating the all of people who paved the way for the Americas as we know them now. At one point he described it as 'preventing our holidays from going in the trash'.
The Mayor says he's not concerned about any negative fallout that could come from the proclamation, he says the polls he's seen show most people don't want to do away with the original name.
"I guess I don’t really think it is divisive to be honest, I don’t really see what the big deal is," Mayor Isgro said. "It is still a federal holiday at the end of the day, Columbus Day isn’t gone... you know the state made somewhat of a ceremonial gesture in passing a bill to rename it here in the state -- but I do respect those views on the other side and I think I was clear to state that."
Maine joins Vermont, New Mexico, Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, Hawaii and South Dakota in passing similar laws, supplanting the holiday name that has been celebrated nationwide since 1937.
More than 130 cities and towns in the state have already made the name change including Starks, Orono, Bangor, Portland, Gouldsboro, Belfast and Brunswick.
Nick Isgro's Mayoral Proclamation:
The arrival of Christopher Columbus on the shores of the New World in 1492 marked the beginning of relations between the Americas and the rest of the world, and opened the doorway to knowledge and exploration known as the Age of Discovery.
After Columbus, millions of European immigrants brought their art, music, science, medicine, philosophy and religious principles to America, which contributions have helped shape the United States and include Greek democracy, Roman law, Christian ethics and the belief that all men are created equal; and
On Columbus Day, we honor the skilled navigator and man of faith who President Benjamin Harrison described as a "pioneer of progress and enlightenment," whose spirited voyage transformed the western hemisphere and inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions in the face of seemingly insurmountable doubts and adversity; and
The accomplishment of Columbus through his courage and willingness to take unknown risks in exchange for discovery, knowledge, and greatness has trickled down through each generation of Americans, from the early pioneer settlers to the exploration of the vast universe beyond our atmosphere; and
Italian Americans constitute our nation's fifth largest ethnic group, whose contributions to American culture, business, and civic life have been of unquestionable value to our diverse shared history;
I, Nicholas Isgro, Mayor of Waterville, do hereby proclaim Monday, October 14th, 2019 as Columbus Day and urge all of Waterville's residents to celebrate this day with appropriate ceremonies and remembrances and to commemorate and honor all of those who have contributed to our diverse shared history.
Isgro was elected in Nov. 2014 and again in Nov. 2017 for his second three-year term.
Some residents of Waterville tried to get Isgro recalled after he made fun of a Parkland, Florida school shooting survivor on Twitter in April of 2018 but he survived the recall.