BRUNSWICK — After nearly an hour of public comment, Brunswick Town Council voted 8 – 1 to designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which would occur the same day as Columbus Day.

The decision, coming soon after the City of Portland’s Monday decision, makes it the fifth municipality in Maine to recognize indigenous people on that day, following Belfast, Bangor, Orono, and Portland.

The concern was brought to the council by the Midcoast Indigenous Awareness Group and was sponsored by councilors Sarah Brayman, Jane Millet, and Steve Walker.

Council was quick to point out that the decision does not eliminate Columbus Day – which recognizes Italian explorer Christopher Columbus for his arrival in the New World in 1492 – as it is a Federal holiday, but is intended to recognize indigenous cultures, too.

Several residents objected to the changing of the name of the day, on the grounds that it is an attempt to erase history.

“Pick a day. But don’t try to change history,” said Jennifer Johnson. “I’m upset because I’m done with everyone trying to change everything to make everybody happy. We can’t make everybody feel good.”

Others felt the move was intentionally antagonistic towards Columbus.

“It’s part of the trendy liberal attempt to improve people’s lives that we’re seeing a lot these days,” said Richard Fisco.

Despite some negative opinions, the majority of public comment was in favor of the proposal, with several residents wearing stickers in support of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“I value justice and truth telling. For me that includes making marginalized people visible and audible,” said Silvia Stocker, minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Brunswick.

Maulian Dana Smith, Penobscot Nation tribal Ambassador, shared her own experience as a native living in Maine.

“Columbus, while he never actually set foot in America, is symbolic of the beginning of the attempted genocide of our people,” she said. “He was brought to court for crimes against humanity. He did unspeakable things. He had the mindset to exterminate a race of people. And that is not something worth celebrating, and I’m not sure of anyone who can argue that.”

Council, as well, generally supported the efforts to rename the day. Councilor David Watson pointed out that Brunswick has strong ties to the Wabanaki, who inhabited the area for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. It’s estimated that 90 percent of native populations were killed by disease and warfare after settlers arrived.

Yet, Watson pointed out, “When the United States had to go to war, they were there,” citing Apache scouts and Navajo code talkers, who contributed heavily to the war effort in World War II.

“They have a great deal to be proud of. A great deal. They are as proud a people as any other peoples, and they deserve to be recognized,” he said.

The one dissenting councilor, Dan Harris, said that the past is rife with incidents that are in a gray area, and felt the terrible mistreatment of natives over the course of U.S. history shouldn’t be placed solely at Columbus’ feet.

“Terrible things were done to the Indians, the Native Americans, if you will. But I couldn’t blame that on Columbus,” said Harris. “I really don’t think it’s appropriate to remove Columbus Day as a day to celebrate the opening up of American to the Europeans, unless, of course, you want to say that in itself was a bad thing and all of us should go back to Europe or wherever it is we came from.”

While council has approved the naming of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, what that means from a logistical standpoint is unclear. Numerous employment contracts in town will still call the holiday Columbus Day.

Still, for many, it was a step towards acknowledging the troubled history Native Americans have dealt with for hundreds of years.

“This isn’t an issue of political correctness. This is an issue that goes much deeper. Symbols mean things. Monuments mean things. Statues mean things. Holidays mean things,” said Smith.

“When we take these steps, and when we work through our healing of our collective experience as Americans, things like this aren’t just symbols, things like this are important steps we can all take together.”