Amherst Elementary Students Launch Campaign for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Photo: The National Indian Council on Aging

Source: Tim Austin

Fifth grade students at Fort River Elementary School in Amherst announced last week, their campaign to make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a state holiday. Students are supporting  bills H.2989 and S.1976 which, if passed, would change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Massachusetts.

“Our class cares about this issue and we hope that the leaders in the state legislature support our campaign,” said 5th grader Aaron Cheng. Cheng’s classmate, Elo Schwabe added, “I think it is a great idea to change the holiday and am glad our representatives in Amherst are in support. This way people would be more aware of the indigenous people who came before them.” State Representative Mindy Domb and State Senator Jo Comerford, are already in favor of the plan. 

Comerford is the lead sponsor of the Senate bill.  “I am proud to join with Fort River Elementary students to advocate for Indigenous People’s Day to be made a state holiday,” she said. “Fort River students have a powerful legacy of activism and are powerful forces for positive change. Indigenous Peoples Day would honor and celebrate the Indigenous peoples, past, present, and future. I’m proud to file this bill and to partner with Fort River students. I work for these students and will continue to prioritize the Indigenous Peoples Day legislation.” 

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have made Indigenous Peoples Day a state holiday.  In many cases  Massachusetts is a leader in making positive changes, but in this case it is not. The 5th grade students support this change and hope to make Massachusetts the next state to recognize the holiday.  The students hope that leaders in the Senate and the House will  follow Comerford’s example and prioritize this bill’s passage. In June, the students are planning to meet with Comerford and Mindy Domb, who is a co-sponsor of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day proposal in the house, to discuss how to move the bill through the legislative process.

In addition, the students have gotten involved in a local effort to help return Lampson Brook Farm in Belchertown to the Nipmuc people. The farm is part of the ancestral lands of the Nipmuc, which were taken by white settlers.  “Although returning Lampson Brook would not fully repay the Nipmuc for years of wrongdoing, by doing this, we could mend the relationship between the Nipmuc and the larger community a little.”  said 5th grade student, Ilona Hazlip, “The students hope that members of the state legislature will also take action on this issue.

The students hope that making these changes could be a way for more indigenous people to feel respected and honored.  In addition, other people would gain a greater understanding of the contributions of indigenous people in the state. “Indigenous people have been living on these lands for thousands of years and we think people should learn about their history,” said 5th grade student Emi Cruz. 

For more information, please contact Aaron Cheng through his teacher: Tim Austin

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