Who? Columbus, Italians and Indigenous Peoples Day

Christopher Columbus meets Indians when he lands in the New World
Columbus lands in the New World, Photo: rook76/123RF

In 2016, the students at the Southampton High School petitioned the school board to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The fact is that Southampton High School has the highest percentage of Native Americans on Long Island.

In the two years that followed, the school board did not change the name, but on the other hand, when listing the holidays for the school year simply called each holiday “No School” rather than Presidents’ Day or Christmas Day or Columbus Day.

Last year, the school board officially changed the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, but shortly thereafter—after a number of groups and individuals, including members of the Italian-American group Sons of Italy, complained about this—they decided to change the name of the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day/Italian Heritage Day.” And that is how it was celebrated here on the second Monday in October, at least in the Southampton School District.

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This effort nationwide has been moving steadily over the past few decades, but notably in the past five years, to use the name Indigenous Peoples Day. More than a dozen states have made this change since 2016, including North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Maine, New Mexico, Vermont, Minnesota and Alaska. Dozens of cities have done that, too. And this past week, the government of Washington, D.C. voted to temporarily change the name to Indigenous Peoples Day pending the approval of the mayor.

In other states, there have been compromises. This April, Oklahoma said that date would be considered both holidays on the same day. Other states recognize two holidays, including Alabama, Connecticut, Nevada, California and Tennessee. Hawaii declared the day Discoverers’ Day, recognizing the day the Polynesian explorers discovered the Hawaiian Islands.

Those kids from Southampton were clearly on to something.

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