A new five-member Native American Commemoration Commission will soon get to work in Haverhill to recognize and honor indigenous peoples who inhabited Haverhill and its surrounding lands for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers.
Mayor James J. Fiorentini said Friday the Commission initially includes two descendants of indigenous peoples, a local historian, a member of the city’s Historic Commission and a local artist. The mayor said others may be added later.
“We have many monuments in the city to commemorate various periods of our history, but we are strikingly lacking in any commemoration of indigenous people,” Fiorentini said in a letter to city councilors, omitting any mention of the recent controversy over the statue of Hannah Duston in Grand Army of the Republic Park, downtown.
The statue, erected in 1879, was the focus of both support and opposition last year with pleas to have the monument removed, petitions to retain it and several acts of vandalism. The monument honors Duston, who escaped from her Native American captors after killing and scalping them in 1697. The recent attention stemmed from an international campaign against symbols of racism after the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer.
Fiorentini proposed a compromise last year, suggesting telling “the other half of the story—the story of the Native Americans who used to live here.” He renewed that call with the establishment of the new Commission.
“To remedy this, I am establishing the Native American Commemoration Commission to plan and design the proper method of honoring and commemorating those indigenous peoples who inhabited this land,” he said.
Dan Speers was named chairperson. The mayor described Speers as “a descendant of indigenous peoples, a well-known poet in the area, member of Haverhill’s Historic Commission and expert on indigenous people’s history.” Others named are Ron Peacetree, also a descendant of indigenous peoples and an expert on indigenous people’s history; John Lynch, an expert in Haverhill history who regularly posts about Haverhill’s history on Facebook; Thomas Wylie, a member of the Haverhill Conservation Commission and Haverhill Historic Commission; and Erin Padilla, programs and operations director at Creative Haverhill/Cogswell ArtSpace.
Fiorentini said he will ask the commission to research and find grants to fund the tribute and that the city’s primary grants officer Andrew Herlihy along with a freelance grant writer will assist with the effort.