Indigenous Peoples' Rights

The 50,000 Native Americans in Massachusetts deserve opportunity, civil rights, and self-determination.

Massachusetts has a long history of disregarding the rights and concerns of its Indigenous population since the state’s colonization. One of the many long-standing issues the Indigenous people have faced is their ability to keep the land that is rightfully theirs. Along with the protection and preservation of their cultures, sacred languages, and heritage sites by the government. The Indigenous people have been underfunded and overlooked by the government for an extensive time, which has contributed to unequal educational opportunities, healthcare disparities, and environmental concerns. The Legislature has the power to enact an Act to protect Native American heritage and an act to establish Indigenous People’s Day in Massachusetts Law, two major steps in Massachusetts that would contribute to the conservation of Indigenous culture.

Racist Mascots

There are 25 - 30 schools in Massachusetts that currently use Native American mascots. These mascots reinforce racist and dehumanizing stereotypes. Exposure to such mascots has been shown to have negative psychological impacts on Native students, including lowered self-esteem and lowered ambition.

Close the Opportunity Gap

Over 50% of Native high school students enrolled in the Boston Public School system do not graduate with their class, and 27% ultimately drop out. This is much higher than the rates for BPS students generally - 41% and 20%, respectively. Massachusetts schools are already woefully underfunded, and Native students face numerous additional barriers to academic success and opportunities that are not being addressed through legislation.

Indigenous Peoples Day

Indigenous Peoples Day is a holiday that is recognized by many, yet Massachusetts general law still fails to acknowledge the holiday in replacement of Columbus. The importance of establishing this holiday would not only positively impact the acknowledgment of cultures, languages, and history of the Indigenous people but also would acknowledge and replace the holiday honoring a genocidal colonizer.

bills to support

Indigenous Peoples Day

  • Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day in Massachusetts Law

Ban Native American Mascots

  • Prohibits the use of Native American mascots in public schools

  • Allows the board of elementary and secondary education to establish deadlines by which school districts need to choose a new name, logo, and mascot

Support Native Students

  • Creates a permanent commission to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for Native students, in particular preparing them for higher education

  • Promotes tribal self-determination by giving Native youth the opportunity to learn about their heritage and language

common questions:

Why should mascots change if they are perceived to be honoring native heritage?

Mascots that depict and symbolize Native figures and heritage do not honor the culture of Indigenous peoples but rather objectify and dehumanize them. Native American mascots often reduce the rich and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples to inaccurate and degrading caricatures that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. In addition to being culturally insensitive, they often don't seek approval or input from Indigenous communities contributing to a lack of accurate representation in these cultures.

Why do we need to get rid of Columbus Day? Why can’t we have both holidays?

Indigenous Peoples Day is about more than a name change; it’s a refusal to allow the genocide of millions of Indigenous peoples to go unnoticed, and a demand for recognition of Indigenous humanity. Recognizing this day in place of what’s currently known as “Columbus Day” is a way to correct false histories, honor Indigenous peoples, and begin to correct some of the countless wrongs committed against Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (what’s now known as the Americas).

Words have meanings; words control who and what we think about, and this has implications on our actions. If we continue to erase Indigenous peoples, and celebrate a colonizer (Christopher Columbus) instead, that will have a direct impact on the ways Indigenous peoples are treated. If we can’t even so much as celebrate the first peoples of this land, and not the person responsible for the largest genocide ever committed, then how can we expect good public policy or day to day treatment for Native Americans?

[Excerpted from Indigenous Peoples Day MA]

Why does this matter in Massachusetts?

Doesn’t my town already recognize Indigenous People’s Day?

In light of inaction at the state and federal levels, some towns and cities in MA have already passed their own local ordinances to formally recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous People’s Day.

Towns that have adopted Indigenous Peoples Day: Amherst, Aquinnah, Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Boston,  Brookline, Cambridge, Easthampton, Falmouth, Grafton, Great Barrington, Harvard, Holyoke, Marblehead, Mashpee, Maynard, Melrose, Newton, Northampton, Provincetown, Salem, Somerville, Stow, and Wellesley

What terminology should I use?

The terminology used to describe American Indian people has changed over the years, as have the people that are recognized by state and federal governments as being American Indian. The terms that are often used today include American Indian, Native American, Indigenous, Indian, First Peoples, Aboriginal, and First Nations. Typically, First Nations is used to describe American Indian people in Canada and Aboriginal is used to describe the Native people of Australia. The Native people of Alaska have been recognized as Alaska Native by the federal government since 1971. Native Hawaiians, are the most recent Native population to be included in federal programs made available to American Indians although they are not federally recognized as a tribe. On this website, you will find the various terms that describe Indigenous peoples used interchangeably or used together. We do this to respect the terminology that different tribes and people use to describe themselves.

We honor Indigenous people who may or may not be part of a federally recognized or state recognized tribe, as well as the peoples whose tribes have been split by the U.S.-Canada border and the U.S.-Mexico border. All Indigenous people are welcome at the North American Indian Center of Boston.

[Excerpted from the North American Indian Center of Boston]

learn more:

MA Indigenous Legislative Agenda