Vermont celebrates first official Indigenous Peoples Day

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont is celebrating its first official Indigenous Peoples Day Monday.

This is the third year Vermont has acknowledged the day, but it's the first year since Gov. Phil Scott took Columbus Day off the calendar.

Vermont has a long history of being at the forefront of social change.

"First state to abolish slavery a long time ago and we've moved forward from there with civil unions," said Carol Conley from Essex Junction.

Vermont joined Maine, New Mexico, Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, Hawaii and South Dakota in passing similar laws. It's part of a trend to move away from honoring Christopher Columbus.

Conley supports the shift.

"People were here long before Columbus happened to touch base wherever he did along the coast," she said.

Governor Scott signed the bill into law a few months ago. He says history is important to our future because we need to learn from the past.

"I think that we need to rely on history and talk about history on all different levels," said Scott, R-Vermont.

He says it's about teaching kids the facts-- the good and the bad.

Rep. Peter Welch says celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day is about opening up the conversation as to how they were treated.

"Celebrating indigenous people in this entire country were persecuted, we know that, you the know the Trail of Tears," said Welch, D-Vermont.

Welch says there's a view of American settlers that this was their land when that really wasn't the case. In fact, he says they displaced indigenous people, oftentimes with violence.

"It's important for us to acknowledge that people came before us and what our role has been with them," Welch said.

Burlington Resident John Olson agrees. To him, it's about recognizing all of the state's population and not just the people from Europe and he says it's important to acknowledge pre-white history.

"That history has been hidden for so long, and I think it's about time we recognize our history and be respectful," said Olson.

"It's about what's right, It's about respect for human beings, it's about respect for who was here long before. As I said, Columbus happened to touch base on the soil somewhere along the way," said Conley.

After speaking to people on Church Street, it was clear that most people really support the name change.

MONDAY OBSERVANCES

Columbus Day is a federal holiday and so federal government offices will be closed Monday.

The University of Vermont is celebrating the state's first Indigenous Peoples Day with several events on Tuesday. There will be a ceremony with Abenaki chiefs and elders, a drumming circle and storytellers, workshops and panels featuring Abenaki spirituality and history about the Fleming Museum of Art's Native American Collection. It starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday and goes until 7 p.m. Anyone is welcome to attend.