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Indigenous activists clash with BAA

Marathon route, timing conflict with observance

Angela Rowlings
Indigenous activists clash with BAA
Chali’Naru Dones, who is Taino and a co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Day Newton Committee, left, is seen with fellow committee member Kerry Prasad at Albemarle Park. PHOTO: ANGELA ROWLINGS

The Indigenous Peoples Day (IPD) Newton Committee began circulating a petition April 1 calling on the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) to change the date of the Boston Marathon. The effort came after the City of Newton denied the group a permit to use a desired park for their first Indigenous Peoples Day celebration on Oct. 11, 2021.

“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,” says the petition, which had more than 22,000 signatures early this week. “Knowing this history gives context and understanding about how much the Boston Athletic Association’s action preserves the legacy of racism in this country.”   

The petition concludes, “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. There are other days available for the Boston Marathon.”

In a statement, the BAA said it would respect and cooperate with any observances planned in the cities and towns the weekend of Oct. 9–11.

“We shared our plans to highlight the Indigenous tradition within the Boston Marathon, including the victories of Ellison Brown (Narragansett, champion of the 1936 and 1939 races) and Thomas Longboat (Onondaga First Nation, 1907 champion), during the 125th Boston Marathon celebration. We will continue to engage, coordinate, and work with any Indigenous Peoples committees along the Boston Marathon route and have asked the cities and towns to identify groups planning events to help facilitate conversations,” said the statement. “The date for the 125th Boston Marathon was selected in close coordination and collaboration with the eight cities and towns that comprise the marathon route. During the date selection process, the Boston Athletic Association regularly met with representatives from the eight cities and towns for feedback and guidance on potential dates and collaboratively selected Monday, October 11.”

Chali’Naru Dones, who is a Taino co-founder of the IPD Newton Committee, said the city told the group there wouldn’t be enough resources to hold the celebration at Albemarle Park due to the marathon, which was rescheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She pointed out that the park is several minutes away from the race route, and that the BAA did not contact her organization regarding the date.

“They did not come and consult with any Indigenous peoples that are from any of the towns that they’re running through,” she said. “The city is giving them all the resources, and one of the offers is to move us to a location that’s not accessible and not visible. That’s a disruption. This is a time for us.”

In a statement, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said the city is excited to celebrate both Indigenous Peoples Day and the Boston Marathon. She confirmed that the city has offered the group use of a field at Newton South High School.

“Newton, which has the longest stretch of the Marathon course, will require a lot of City of Newton staffing so it will be both fun and safe,” the statement said.

This will be the first time Newton is celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day after the city council voted last year to change the holiday from Columbus Day. Dones said the high school field would deny her group visibility and accessibility.

“We want to be seen and respected and share space,” said Dones.

Kerry Prasad, a white Newton resident who participates on the committee, said she plans to attend the event with her husband and two children. She said the message many Americans receive is that “The Indians all died off,” so it is important to counter this misconception by introducing Newton residents to Indigenous culture, arts and enterprises.

“I think it would be important for people from to come to this event and meet their Indigenous neighbors from around the state and around the region,” said Prasad.

Dones said the group is only expecting about 100 people to attend the interactive family festivities that will feature Indigenous crafts, dancing, a talking circle with elders, food trucks and a demonstration of how to build a bohio, a thatched hut used by Taino peoples.

“I would retract the petition if the city said, ‘OK, you can have the park on the same day as the marathon.’ This area does not conflict with the route that they’re on. It’s literally eight to 10 minutes away,” said Dones.

“Let us have this park so we can enjoy our day,” she said. “We’ve come this far, Newton. You made the change. Let us celebrate.”