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Mar 16, 2016 10:11 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton School Board Postpones Decision On Changing Name Of Columbus Day Holiday

Dozens of people, many from the Shinnecock Indian Nation, attended Tuesday night's Southampton Board of Education meeting to advocate for changing Columbus Day on the district calendar to “Indigenous Day.” ALYSSA MELILLO
Mar 16, 2016 10:36 AM

The Southampton Board of Education opted Tuesday night to postpone any decision on a proposal to change the name of Columbus Day on the district calendar to “Indigenous Day,” a request made by students and supported by members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

Instead, board members this week adopted a generic calendar for 2016-17, one for planning purposes that designates only the days when school is in session—but said they will make a decision on the Columbus Day issue before August.

“Our feeling is, this is the best way to go forward,” said Board President Heather McCallion. “We are in the midst of budget season—we have to get our budget finished. We don’t want to lose sight of all those things while we’re debating the calendar.”

The vote was not unanimous, however, as board member Roberta Hunter, a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, was in favor of resolving the issue that night. “I really cannot stand with a vote of a generic calendar at this time,” she said.

The adoption of the generic calendar seemed to frustrate dozens of people from all over Long Island who had packed into the intermediate school cafeteria for Tuesday night’s board meeting to present their arguments for and against the change. Many, if not all, wanted a decision made that night.

“We’re having this discussion, we’re having this debate, as a result of our children, your children—your schoolchildren—so you should be proud of that,” said Charles Smith, a member of the tribe, referring to seventh-graders who wrote letters to the School Board in 2014 asking to change the name of the school holiday, after studying the Italian explorer. “[The board] can’t let these children down.”

“A generic calendar is not the answer. It’s disrespectful for both sides,” said Keith Wilson of Massapequa, a former member of the Plainedge Board of Education, who also serves as secretary for the Order Sons of Italy in America’s Commission on Social Justice. “As a leader, you have to lead. Board members are the community leaders. If anybody here on this board adopts a generic calendar, they should be voted out, come the May budget vote.”

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation stressed that because Christopher Columbus killed thousands of native people when he arrived in what is now the Bahamas, an Italian such as Amerigo Vespucci or Galileo Galilei should be celebrated instead.

“Every day, I wake up in the same place my family strived, died, sweated and bled. And the reason why we’re still there is because we fought,” said tribe member Fordel Willis. “Columbus, and a lot of other people, have explored, destroyed, and taken.

“Go home and wake up every day and fight the next person that tries to come and take [your home] from you, and then you’ll understand why Indigenous Day is important to us,” Mr. Willis continued. “Indigenous Day should be every day, especially in the United States of America.”

Those against the removal of Columbus Day from the calendar argued that while they believed Native Americans and other ethnic groups deserved their own holiday as well, it did not justify eliminating another.

“We have a Trump phenomenon in the country, and it’s because of a lot of people like you, trying to kick the can down the road,” said the Reverend Donald Havrilla, pastor of the Southampton Full Gospel Church. “This is not about our indigenous people. We have problems over the years with civil rights, everything else, but they’re not going to be fixed by taking one holiday away. Give another holiday—the Native Americans deserve it. They’ve been pushed out of this country, there’s no question about it. But you don’t gain something by taking away from other people.

“We elected you—and I’m from Southampton—to state your case,” Rev. Havrilla added. “And if you can’t do that, then who needs you?”

After the School Board agreed to push off the decision until later in the year, Kenneth Coard, a member of the tribe, said that he found it hard to believe school officials were taking arguments into consideration from people who don’t live in the district, as many of the speakers who spoke against changing the name of Columbus Day were from western Suffolk County.

“These people can’t even vote in this district. They don’t have any children in the district,” Mr. Coard said. “Yet, these individuals who just left … they were able to give you a moment of pause, and they have no vested interest in this community whatsoever.”

While Ms. McCallion agreed with Mr. Coard, she noted that the district has received a number of emails and letters from district residents who were opposed changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Day, and that the board wanted to hear both sides of the argument before further discussing the matter.

“We are a very, very diverse community. We want community involvement,” she said. “There is no intent to exclude any particular ethnicity from being celebrated.”

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It Columbus Day, get over it.
By Preliator Lives (360), Obamavillie on Mar 16, 16 11:19 AM
Columbus Day is celebrated as an Italian-American holiday. No Columbus didn't discover this continent, yes it was previously inhabited, and was also previously settled by Nordic explorers in the 900's. Let the Italian-Americans have their day; if anything, rename it for America Vespucci, for whom we named the continent.
By gaelic_wolf (4), Warwick on Mar 16, 16 12:28 PM
Amerigo Vespucci
By dnice (2342), Hampton Bays on Mar 16, 16 12:56 PM
Thank you for the correction.
By gaelic_wolf (4), Warwick on Mar 17, 16 12:59 PM
Columbus was not the first European to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
That distinction is generally given to the Norse Viking Leif Eriksson, who is believed to have landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 A.D., almost five centuries before Columbus set sail. Some historians even claim that Ireland’s Saint Brendan or other Celtic people crossed the Atlantic before Eriksson. While the United States commemorates Columbus—even though he never set foot on the North American mainland—with ...more
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Mar 16, 16 3:58 PM
I think the most hilarious thing about those who pushed West would be the fact many thought the remains of native agribusiness was "God's gift" to them on their travels. After the ravages of plague, there was no one left to tend to the garden, as it were.

You can't make this stuff up.
By Mr. Z (10907), North Sea on Mar 16, 16 11:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
It's a pretty well established and recognized historical fact the Columbus was a really bad guy. I don't understand why Italian Americans are so interested in celebrating their heritage by recognizing Columbus rather any one of many other truly great and deserving, Italian historical figures. Is it denial of the facts or just ignorance of history?
By Arnold Timer (313), Sag Harbor on Mar 16, 16 9:51 PM
How does a school district even have jurisdiction over a national holiday?
By InnerBay (57), Southampton on Mar 16, 16 10:59 PM
3 members liked this comment
It seems people celebrate this day to honor their Italian heritage, and not so much the person it is named after, which is great, but then it should be called "Italian Heritage Day" it should not be called the name of a man who oppressed and killed a group of people, my people. This national holiday only came about in the 40's during that time this nation still had segregation laws, so the US government was not thinking or cared about how this holiday impacted the Natives. This was not a holiday ...more
By NativeWoman (16), southampton on Mar 17, 16 10:22 AM
Oh boy...can't wait to see the reactions to the the school closure for this year...
10-10 (COL-IND-AMERI Day); followed by 2 days of Yom Kippur. 5 day weekend.
At least the Italians and the Jews get along.
By foodwhiner (134), Southampton on Mar 17, 16 1:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Most of the Shinnecock kids come out of Southampton with a very low education. Reason being Southampton takes the state money, and they answer to no one. How about a meeting about how the school district robs the Shinnecocks future?
By chief1 (2605), southampton on Mar 18, 16 8:18 AM
1 member liked this comment
The voyage of Columbus changed the scope of the globe. It began the historic "Age of Exploration". Columbus was a man with faults, there is no doubt about that. He also "discovered" the Americas for the Europeans who at the time were all searching for a western route to India. In terms of the Vikings, they made no claims to the lands and did not look to colonize as did the later western powers of Spain, Portugal, England, France. Columbus Day is a western European based holiday to honor his journey ...more
By louse pt. (143), springs on Mar 19, 16 2:07 PM
1 member liked this comment
What on earth does ''changed the scope of the globe'' mean? All the meaningless gobbledygook in the world can't change that Columbus day is a racist holiday meant to honor a sailor that had no honor and a bad sense of direction.
By BillyWest (13), southampton on Mar 20, 16 10:05 AM
Nearly all of the cross Atlantic journeys taken during the "Age of Exploration" had miscalculations. This journey opened this age. Many important navigational instruments were invented and applied, such as the astrolabe, quadrant, and advances in sailing. Any educated person knows that Columbus and the Spaniards were not kind to the natives. This is unfortunate, but does not change the historical relevance of his journey in terms of Western global expansion. The United States is a nation formed ...more
By louse pt. (143), springs on Mar 20, 16 10:45 AM
1 member liked this comment
Ironically, without the advances of the modern world, you would not be able to comment on this article as there wouldn't be any computers.
By louse pt. (143), springs on Mar 20, 16 10:52 AM
Journalism is dead at Southampton Press. Joe Shaw knew this story did not give all the facts and did nothing to fix it. Looking at the quote of Pastor Havrilla, you would think he said nothing else. He did talk how Christmas and Easter are on the calendar but only as a after thought of winter and spring recess. Imagine a Pastor talking about Christian holidays, who would have thought! Are they the next holiday to change?? Remember the Bible used to be read in public schools, and the 10 commandments ...more
By Jr (7), Sag Harbor on Mar 22, 16 9:13 PM
All Christian holidays are offshoots of Roman holidays and festivals. Prayer in schools has always violated the Constitution, unless said school is parochial.
By Mr. Z (10907), North Sea on Mar 22, 16 9:33 PM