October 8, 2020
Five students from the We Speak social justice group at Portsmouth High School accomplished the goal of their appeal to the City Council at the meeting on October 5. The Council approved unanimously the motion offered by Councilor Cliff Lazenby that “the City of Portsmouth recognizes October 12, 2020 as Indigenous Peoples Day alongside Columbus Day.”
As the students noted during the Public Comment section of the City Council meeting, “the Portsmouth City Council voted following George Floyd’s killing in May, to become a ‘racial justice municipality,’ a proclamation with associated promises to find ways to celebrate and highlight the history and cultures of people of color. We Speak students feel adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a way to be sure the proclamation lives up to its intent.”
The Portsmouth High School students making the appeal included Rosayla Gonsalez, Arden Griffin, Harini Subramarian, lilia Potter Shwartz, Aulia Castallano.
Councilor Lazenby said, “First of all I appreciate the Portsmouth High School students with We Speak for bringing attention to an opportunity for our City to acknowledge racial integrity and the history of Indigenous People on the Seacoast. Personally I feel we are overdue to be inclusive of all the people who have called this home, not only those from the ‘West’ who explored and conquered it. This year we acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day alongside the state declaration of Columbus Day. The City Council committed unanimously to hold a public hearing later this year to further community dialogue on our longer-term path. We can increase awareness of life in this region before the four centuries it has been known as Portsmouth and celebrate a diverse legacy.”
Harini Subramarian, one of the students who spoke during Public Comment, said, "We are extremely grateful to the city council to have made this change on such short notice, and for their compassion and commitment to the resolution passed earlier this year. The ultimate hope of We Speak organization is to make Indigenous Peoples' day permanent in the near future, we are looking forward to working with the city on this most important change.”
While the State of New Hampshire sets the calendar of municipal holidays and last year tabled a vote to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day statewide, towns and school boards around New Hampshire have approved the recognition in their local jurisdictions. Portsmouth joins Dover, Durham, the Concord School Board, the Oyster River Cooperative School District, Hopkinton and Keene in recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day. Manchester is considering the idea.