There is one level on which I don’t care what Discovery Day is going to be called. It is an issue that doesn’t move me. St. John’s City Council has voted to change Discovery Day to St. John’s Day until a new name is found.
At the root of this is a motion from St. John’s City Councillor Maggie Burton who says the name Discovery Day implies John Cabot discovered Newfoundland when in fact there were indigenous people living here long before Cabot arrived.
Can’t Argue the Facts
While you can’t argue the facts of that you have to wonder as to whether we are being swept along on a trend that has spread across the United States. A couple of years ago Los Angeles, California decided it would no longer have Columbus Day to mark the “discovery” of the New World.
Instead there would be an Indigenous People’s Day. A lot of Native American activists were at the meeting but so was a large contingent of Italian-Americans looking to hang on to Columbus Day as a name. The vote ultimately was 14-1 to axe Columbus Day. Press reports said it was a “fractious” meeting.
So the St. John’s motion isn’t a new idea. It’s not just Los Angeles making the change. Cities like Seattle and Phoenix also moved in that direction. It is something that is in the air so to speak. Some kind of North American in-vogue municipal “ice bucket challenge.” It’s a line-up in the United States to stand up and do something symbolic as a form of apology to indigenous peoples.
The impetus in Newfoundland is not from native groups, however, but rather from St. John’s City Councillor Maggie Burton. The name Discovery Day by the way isn’t even a council issue. It is a provincial issue. Discovery Day is a provincial holiday. The vote passed through St. John’s City Council by the narrowest of margins, 5-4 without the vote of the full council. Two of the councillors, Deanne Stapleton and Debbie Hanlon, were absent from council chambers.
Doesn’t Matter a Whit
So what is my issue with all of this? Well the short answer is I don’t have an issue. It would appear to be “apple pie and motherhood.” Whether it is Discovery Day, St. John’s Day or anything else doesn’t matter a whit to me.
Will it become a reality? I think so. If it was a name change from “John Cabot Day” that might be a horse of a different colour. There is, however, no emotional attachment to a word like “Discovery.” That isn’t a person or a thing. It is a concept.
Now I hope this doesn’t anger people, but I do wish someone had asked me at election time rather than a mid-summer shorthanded council meeting. I’m not even sure how I would have voted, but I surely would have cast a vote.
NTV’s Jim Furlong can be reached by emailing: [email protected]