BOSTON – Native Americans in Massachusetts are calling on the organizers of the Boston Marathon to move the already rescheduled date for the storied race because it now conflicts with a day meant to commemorate the contributions of Indigenous people.
The Boston Athletic Association announced in January that the 125th edition of the marathon would be pushed back from its traditional April running to Oct. 11, assuming road races are allowed to take place under Massachusetts’ COVID-19 restrictions by then.
But the Indigenous Peoples Day Newton Committee complained the new day undercuts a day reserved for recognizing the contributions of Native Americans, past and present. The group said its first planned celebration of the Oct. 11 holiday in the Boston suburb of Newton has to be canceled because of the marathon’s new date.
“Unfortunately, the Boston Athletic Association has decided that Indigenous Peoples Day is a ‘side’ holiday that can be usurped," the committee said in a recently launched online petition. "By doing this, they are perpetuating the myth that Indigenous peoples are part of the past and irrelevant.”
The BAA didn't directly address the complaints, but said the new date was selected in close coordination with the eight cities and towns along the marathon route. Those communities include Newton as well as Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and Boston.
“We will continue working with city and town officials, as well as with organizations planning events during the October 9–11 weekend,” the organization said in a statement.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said the city, which has the longest stretch of the marathon course, can handle both events. She said the city is offering to host an Indigenous Peoples Day celebration on a field at Newton South High School.
“While the pandemic has made so many things more complicated, we are excited to celebrate both Indigenous Peoples Day and the Boston Marathon in Newton on October 11, 2021,” Fuller said in a statement.
But City Councilor Emily Norton said she's disappointed at the chosen date. “It was insensitive at best and disrespectful at worst,” she said.
Indigenous Peoples Day is observed instead of Columbus Day in a number of states and dozens of U.S. cities. It’s usually held on the second Monday of October, coinciding with the federal holiday.
The Newton group said marathon organizers should reschedule the race to give Indigenous communities the space they deserve.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is a time for everyone to learn more about the history of America as it relates to Indigenous Peoples — because we are all on Indigenous Land," the organization said in its petition. “The BAA has the chance to acknowledge the importance of keeping the spotlight on Indigenous Peoples Day rather than steal the spotlight for the Marathon.”
The BAA has said this year's race will have space for 20,000 entrants — a smaller field than prior years to allow for social distancing. There will also be a virtual race from Oct. 8-10 that will allow up to 70,000 more entrants.
First run in 1897, the Boston Marathon was canceled last year for the first time in its history. Instead, almost 16,000 people ran in a virtual race, completing the 26.2-mile distance on their own over a 10-day period.