Councilor Ali on First Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Portland 2017


City Councilor Pious Ali at Coffee by Design This Morning.

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“Our country is undergoing a tremendous change.  There are issues around race, class and many other things that make up who we are as a country.  However, the loudest narrative we have as a country is a single voice narrative,” said City Councilor Pious Ali, late this morning at Coffee By Design, Diamond Street, where he spends some of every Monday meeting with his constituents – even today – a rebranded holiday in Portland and numerous other cities.

“In reality we are a country of diverse histories.  That is what makes us different from any other country on earth.  We need to learn from our history.  We need to talk about everything that has happened and have a sincere conversation among us,” said the articulate Councilor Ali.

It’s especially appropriate to meet with Councilor Ali today because it was his proposal to change the name of the day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day from Columbus Day that the Portland City Council approved unanimously last month.  The vote was taken following lengthy and moving testimony from the public on September 18, 2017. (Please see post herein dated September 18, 2017 for more background information on the matter.)

“This has nothing to do with taking anything away from Italian-Americans who have played a major role in the development of the city of Portland as well as the country.  The story of native Americans is connected to the Columbus Day history,” the Councilor said.

On another subject which was to have  been the subject of todays interview until this blogger remembered it was Indigenous Peoples’ Day,  Councilor Ali talked about a piece of legislation he has introduced to the Economic Development Committee of which he is a member.  It’s an idea intended to provide training to fill unfilled local jobs.   “We hear employees say all the time we have these jobs and no one with matching skills to fill them.  Funding for these jobs could be funded by TIF credits.  We will look at models from other cities on how to make this work,” Councilor Ali said.  “We are talking about training people for computer jobs, chefs and carpenters.”  He is employed at USM, Muskie School of Public Policy, as a Policy Analyst 1.

Mayor Ethan Strimling introduced to the EDC this spring a proposal, co-sponsored by Councilor Ali, that would require construction companies receiving TIF breaks from the City,  to provide apprenticeship programs.  It was intended to help train minorities and veterans for positions that have gone wanting for lack of trained people. The Strimling proposal for apprenticeships was recently defeated at an EDC meeting  by a vote of 2 – 1.  However, other benefits that will be incorporated in the TIF policy were achieved. Committee Chair David Brennerman said this program would be “too burdensome” for construction companies.  Councilor Spencer Thibeadou, a real estate attorney, also voted against the proposal.  Ali, as a co-sponsor, voted in favor of the proposal.  The Mayor could not vote because he isn’t a Committee member.

Councilor Ali came to the US seventeen years ago from Ghana where he worked as a photojournalist.  Of charges of “fake news” by President Trump, Ali said that there are a “lot of autocrats and dictators who want to control their country.  They start with the media.”  He named Stalin and Hitler as prime examples.  Then he scurried off to visit his daughter and this blogger took off for the Maine Mall in SoPo looking for bargains on this first Indigenous Peoples’ Holiday. in Portland.  Not everyone was focused on the first Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a/k/a Columbus Day, in Portland.

“The day means nothing to me at all.  It’s usually a good day to go leaf peeping, although it’s a little slower this year,” said Gail Bruns, a retired ICU nurse from Scarborough, at the SoPo Maine Mall, who was “people watching. “So every day is a holiday for me.  Nurses work about 50% of holidays.  It also represents a change of season.  We are entering the fall and a colder season.”

This change in how individuals want to observe a traditional holiday began in the 1990s when people became more aware that it was the Vikings who first appeared in America, not Columbus.  In fact, Columbus never set foot in this country.  It reminds this blogger of the fact that Englishman Sir Ferdinando Gorges, for whom Fort Gorges is named, never set foot in Maine either.  He was an ambitious man who had dreams of colonizing the coast of Maine.  But Gorges was unsuccessful at that.  Naming the Fort off Munjoy HIll for him has never made any sense to this blogger either.