Portland – With Maine no longer observing Columbus Day, members of one former working-class Portland neighborhood are observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day with all-day celebrations.
The event is spearheaded by Karen Steed, a former Washington DC lobbyist who moved here 5 years ago. Steed now runs a successful artisanal soap shop.
“Rather than celebrate the brutality of colonialism, we’re going to lift up the names of the peoples who were here long before Europeans settled the so-called ‘New World.'”
Steed plans on serving Poc Chuc, “a food with its roots in ancient Mayan culture,” from a stand outside her store, a building that once housed a family-owned laundromat.
The neighborhood had a reputation for being “on the wrong side of town” as little as 10 years ago. Working-class people from dozens of ethnic and national backgrounds lived there until the tax rates were increased enough to make it no longer affordable.
“This is the best way I can think of to celebrate those affected by the brutality of imperialism,” said Joel Rockefeller, a former defense industry executive who now runs a successful art gallery.
Rockefeller opened his gallery in 2010 after the auto mechanic who was there before was forced to move due to new zoning enacted by members of the neighborhood.
Rockefeller had his eyes “opened up” by a visit with a native tribe of Amazonians last year.
“We need to honor these proud people,” he said.
The Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration is open to all, but Steed said it’s open especially to the Indigenous People of Maine.
“I think there’s a federally recognized tribe here in Maine? If so, we would welcome them with open arms, whoever they may be.”