My very first time speaking in front of an elected body was in 2018, in front of the Portland Maine City Council. Earlier that year, I had finished training to learn how to run for office and was beginning to have the time and space to pay more attention to what was happening locally and nationally. In Maine, we were changing the school curriculum and making moves to remove Native mascots. Our city was also considering the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day during that time.
I was grateful to have a friend come with me to speak in front of an elected body. She offered to drive and go first so I could follow her lead on the protocols for speaking in front of council and so I wouldn’t have to be alone. I wrote it all out. I read it out loud to my family, including my mom, and when it was my turn, I stepped up to the mic to address the Council and Mayor, who were both in front of me. After I shared my statement, however, what I didn’t anticipate was for applause to erupt in the chambers.
The mayor quickly gaveled to call for silence, as Council rules stated that the chamber should be non-reactive and observe. Other speakers from our local tribes spoke after me, which included powerful words about why this opportunity was important to them. But another unexpected moment occurred when the community members spoke in opposition. “How dare we ask to change such a historic day? How dare we try to rewrite history?” Well, my friends, that’s precisely why we stand up to speak on that day and every second Tuesday in October since. To remind our communities that We Are Here. The motion that night passed unanimously to make the change to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the following year the state of Maine also made the change.
Four years later, in 2022, I am in my second year as an At-Large City Councilor for Portland, ME – the first Native woman to hold this seat. I have had the privilege to read our proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day each year since 2020. I do not take this action lightly, and it does not ever become routine. I have this opportunity, I hold this space, and I do this work because of the generations who came before me and made it possible.
My name is April Fournier; I use she/her pronouns, I am Diné, and I am a guest on the land of the peoples of the Dawnland, the Penobscot, Maliseet, Miq Maq, and Passamaquoddy. I am proud to serve my community and continue to create space to recognize our important accomplishments for my generation and the generations to come.
View the City of Portland’s Resolution Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
About the Author
April Fournier is an At-Large Member on the Portland, ME City Council. She is Diné of the Navajo Nation.