PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Three weeks from now many of us will be celebrating a day off from work, thanks to a national holiday known as Columbus Day.
But a decision facing the Portland City Council could alter the name of that day to Columbus "and" Indigenous Peoples' Day, a decision that is fueling strong emotions on both sides.
"My soul is with the Native Americans. It always has been." Jacqui Deveneau has no native heritage but is pushing for the passage of "Indigenous Peoples' Day" in Portland — a way, she says, to acknowledge the people who lived in these areas thousands of years before any European settlers ever set foot here.
"The Wabanaki of Maine, the indigenous people around the world, they're our founding people."
Three miles away at the Italian Heritage Center, Cammi Reali shares her thoughts.
"We would just like to keep Columbus Day."
Reali is 100 percent Italian. She is also president of the Italian Heritage Center, where Christopher Columbus takes center stage, literally — a statue of him welcomes visitors.
“He discovered America. And that's what we were taught in school. We didn't learn anything bad about him in school. I've learned some things that he wasn't so good in different aspects but it's been 400 years."
And Reali said she thinks things should remain the way they are. “We can't erase history and we should not erase history."
History is at the heart of Deveneau's fight: “I grew up believing that Christopher Columbus landed in America and discovered America and he never did. And not only did he not land in America, but he killed all the indigenous people. And to me, that’s a crime.”
Deveneau shares that she believes history books have treated Christopher Columbus too kindly, arguing that any savagery toward Native Americans has been ignored.
“We have been whitewashed, all of my history has been so whitewashed and it's a total crime." Deveneau said she wants history books rewritten to reflect the role indigenous people played in American history.
“Our schools need to start teaching not only the truth about Christopher Columbus but the truth about who these indigenous people were in America and what their history to our history truly was."
Back at the Italian Heritage Center, Reali said she's all for that, but insists there is room for everyone.
"I really feel that this should stay a day for Christopher Columbus. Let them have their own day and we would be honored to have that day also."
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