A statewide movement to honor Native Americans with their own holiday might draw its first blowback in Maine with a protest set for downtown Bangor on Saturday.
A group calling itself the Mayflower Society — which is not related to the organization of descendants of Plymouth Rock settlers — will rally in support of Columbus Day at Peirce Park at 2 p.m., said Michael Fitch, a rally organizer.
Bangor, Belfast, Brunswick, Orono and Portland are among the Maine municipalities that have joined the Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement by replacing or supplementing Columbus Day. Bar Harbor is considering it.
Activists have for years worked to shift public perception from the explorer’s arrival in the Americas to his treatment of indigenous peoples, saying the holiday glorifies colonization and genocide.
Columbus Day’s supporters, meanwhile, often see the holiday as a celebration of Italian culture.
Fitch said his group does not oppose Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but thinks it should not replace Columbus Day.
“It is not only possible, it is preferable to celebrate one culture without taking away from another. That’s our message,” he added.
He called the introduction of Indigenous Peoples’ Day “a microcosm of a larger issue: The replacement of American traditions and memorials, specifically of European descent.”
A protest over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August turned deadly when a car allegedly driven by a man who had long sympathized with Nazi views plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, leaving one dead and 19 injured.
Fitch’s group, which has as many as 100 members throughout New England, promises a non-violent protest, he said.
Bangor police will close Harlow Street between Franklin and Central streets and will “have a presence at the rally,” said Sgt. Wade Betters, the department’s spokesman.
City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci, a supporter of the council’s decision in August to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, said Bangor would welcome a peaceful protest, though he disagreed with the protestors.
“I think that they feel they are standing for age-old American traditions, but the native Americans are themselves age-old — 11,000 years old — and a tradition,” Baldacci said Friday. “And this country has always been about inclusiveness.”