At their recent regular meeting on Wednesday, June 21, the New Paltz Central School District Board of Education passed a resolution to designate the school holiday that falls on the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Curriculum will be developed for all New Paltz schools to support the new focus, with the board’s intention that the period of time between Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Thanksgiving Day be used “as an opportunity to honor and respect indigenous peoples and their contributions to this region and the Americas, in an effort to build a more aware, inclusive and knowledgeable school community.”
The resolution passed by a vote of 6-0. Board member Sophia Skiles was not in attendance, but because it was she who initiated the process to change the holiday last December, a written statement by her in support of the resolution was entered into the record and read aloud at the meeting by trustee Steve Greenfield.
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937, initially intended to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. But his portrayal as discoverer of the Americas is no longer considered to be accurate, with evidence that the first Europeans to cross the Atlantic were Vikings. In addition, the indigenous peoples already inhabiting the land when he arrived had been here for thousands of years. The actions taken by Columbus and European settlers upon their arrival to these shores is known to have led to the demise of a large number of native peoples, so the celebration of Columbus Day has become controversial in many communities. It’s hung on as a celebration of Italian-American heritage in large part, but the New Paltz School Board maintains that with what is known now, it’s a matter of evolving.
In their boardroom discussions about the matter over the past year, each trustee has gone on the record supporting the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Their reasons ultimately boil down to the desire to update how American history is taught to students, providing a more thorough picture of the complexities of history and recognizing the contributions of Native Americans.
Before the board members made their final vote, schools Superintendent Maria Rice said she’d been asked by a person (left unnamed) to broach the idea of leaving Columbus Day as it is now and creating an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The idea was discussed but rejected by each board member present, who all basically said it would negate the entire reason for making the change in the first place.