In a possibly futile effort to please both those who celebrate Christopher Columbus and activists who accuse him of genocide, the New York City public school system has designated Oct. 11 as Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day.
A calendar for the 2021-22 school year was initially posted on Tuesday with Columbus Day, a state and federal holiday, labeled simply Indigenous People’s Day.
The change, which was made without the knowledge of Mayor Bill de Blasio, drew swift condemnation from elected officials, including Democratic state Sens. Diane Savino and Joe Addabbo, who called the renaming “block-headed” and said it did “terrible disservice to a difficult and complex conversation.”
The city Department of Education then backtracked and changed the name again.
“Italian Heritage Day/Indigenous People’s Day will celebrate the contributions and legacies of Italian Americans and recognize that Native people are the first inhabitants of the land that became our country,” department spokeswoman Danielle Filson said in a statement.
That compromise drew fresh condemnation on Wednesday from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I support an indigenous people’s holiday, but I also support Columbus Day. You can have an indigenous people’s day without intruding on Columbus Day,” Cuomo said.
“Why insult or diminish the Italian-American contribution? Why? There’s no need and it’s unhealthy for the body politic.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, said Columbus Day will remain a state holiday.
Columbus’ legacy has been the subject of scrutiny in recent years, with some cities and states renaming the second Monday in October to honor the Native Americans who were decimated by disease and violence after Europeans arrived in the Americas.
Some states have created a holiday for Native Americans on a separate date.
“New York is leagues behind other states and cities,” said Cliff Matias of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council, which offers educational programs about Native American culture in New York-area schools.
Matias called the Columbus Day renaming compromise “just another crude attempt by the powers that be in New York City to go against the tide in this country.”
But Columbus has plenty of support in New York, where tens of thousands of people march through Manhattan every Columbus Day.
De Blasio said he backed the compromise.
“We have to honor that day as a day to recognize the contributions of all Italian-Americans, so of course the day should not have been changed arbitrarily,” de Blasio said.
The Democratic mayor said that neither he nor Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter was consulted about the initial switch to Indigenous People’s Day.
Asked about the matter at a virtual news briefing, de Blasio said the process of changing the name wasn’t right, “but the end result, it’s going to be a day to honor Italian-American heritage, a day to honor indigenous peoples. I think that’s a good way forward.”
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