by Sierra Guardiola
Across the United States, many people enjoyed a day off from work and school October 14. The second Monday in October has historically been nationally recognized as Columbus Day, a holiday that commemorates Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas in 1492. In recent years however, various locations across the country have passed legislation and initiated efforts to honor a counter-celebration on this day – Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This counter-celebration intends to honor and recognize the groups of people who were here before Europeans immigrated to America and populated their land.
While the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not yet nationally recognized, some cities and counties in the Finger Lakes Region do observe this holiday. The Finger Lakes Region occupies land from which many groups of indigenous people can trace their roots. For example, the land that Tompkins County stands on once belonged to the Cayuga Nation and Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. In 2018, Tompkins County as well as Rochester celebrated their first annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This year, recognition of this holiday grew not only within the Finger Lakes Region in towns such as Corning, but also across the nation. The Smithsonian placed both Rochester and Ithaca, along with other smaller jurisdictions across the United States as they call them, on a list of places credited as spearheading the efforts to push toward recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day in addition to Columbus Day. Since these efforts gained momentum, 15 states now recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day either alone or in combination with Columbus Day.
The history of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus Day can be traced back as far as 1977, just five years after President Richard Nixon declared the day a national holiday. It was that year that the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas was held and it was proposed that a day recognizing indigenous peoples should be observed. In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as Native Americans’ Day, with other states more recently following suit.
While there are still many cities within the Finger Lakes Region and across the nation that have yet to adopt this holiday into their observance, the headway places like Rochester and Ithaca have made opens doors for other cities to follow suit.