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Durham officials delay decision on Columbus Day celebrations

Union Leader Correspondent

September 11. 2017 11:42PM

Durham town councilor Kenny Rotner and chair Kitty Marple listen to public comments on a proposed double holiday on Columbus Day. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

Daniel Day speaks about The Age of Exploration and Indigenous Peoples' Day during Monday night's Durham town council meeting. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — Residents turned out at Monday night's town council meeting to discuss celebrating The Age of Exploration and Indigenous Peoples' Day along with Columbus Day.

But just after 10 p.m., councilors decided to postpone to next week a decision about a resolution on the issue.

Resident Daniel Day spoke during Monday's public forum. He said he had some concerns about double-naming the holiday, and suggested the town celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

He said it is a day when people are already thinking about the contributions of Native Americans. He expressed concern that celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day on Columbus Day would promote a bias against European explorers.

Day told the council that when he was in school, he had a history teacher who asked the class if Christopher Columbus was a hero, villain or a saint. Then the teacher made a clear argument for all three.

Resident Martin Lee spoke in favor of celebrating The Age of Exploration and Indigenous Peoples' Day on Columbus Day.

"It is not a question of rewriting history. It is a question of being honest about our past," Lee said.

The discussion comes at a time when a 1950s mural at the Durham post office titled "Cruel Adversity" is being questioned. It depicts a Native American man preparing to torch a settler's house as part of the Oyster River Massacre during King William's War in 1694.

The controversy about the mural, and demands that the panel be removed, are upsetting to Frances Slocum Parks, a Cotuit, Mass., resident who emailed Town Administrator Todd Selig on Monday morning.

Parks, 70, said she is named after Frances Slocum, who she said was 5 when she was stolen by three Native American warriors from her Quaker family in Pennsylvania in the 1700s. She was not reunited with her family for six decades.

"Her mother died not knowing what happened to her. Her father died not knowing what happened to her. They were fierce warriors. They took slaves and they stole children," Parks told the New Hampshire Union Leader during a phone interview.

Parks said the "Cruel Adversity" mural panel should not be removed from the post office; she supports a proposal for additional context on the mural to provide a balanced view.

Selig and others are working with post office officials on the mural issue.

Selig said that the town council cannot pass a resolution to replace Columbus Day with The Age of Exploration and Indigenous Peoples' Day because Columbus Day is a federal holiday; that's why double-naming would be necessary.

The council will take up the discussion at its Sept. 18 meeting.

History Holiday or vacation Social issues Durham Local and County Government

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