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Williamsville Central Schools consider adopting Indigenous Peoples Day

Talk of doing away with Columbus Day now turns to the Williamsville Central School Board, which Tuesday evening will discuss renaming the holiday Indigenous Peoples Day.

The suggestion came from School Board President Toni Vazquez, who said the reaction the board has heard since she first proposed the idea last month has been favorable, but only slightly favorable.

"I have gotten mostly positive responses to this idea," she said. "Some other board members received mixed reviews regarding the idea."

Since the item is on the agenda for discussion only, Vazquez does not expect a vote Tuesday night.

Vazquez said she has seen a presentation that members of Niagara Wheatfield High School's Native American Club gave to its School Board, requesting the name change in September. The Niagara Wheatfield board designated Indigenous Peoples Day that night.

While the movement is growing in the area – The Town of Newstead, Village of Akron and Town of Lewiston declared Indigenous Peoples Day last year – it is a difficult thing for some to understand.

"People are not prepared," Vazquez said. "We were taught, our generation was taught, that Christopher Columbus discovered America."

Columbus, once considered a hero by many for discovering the New World, is viewed as a villain by others who say he can't claim to discover a continent where millions of people had lived for more than 1,000 years, and he has been discredited for torturing and enslaving native peoples.

"Our kids were already aware of Columbus and what he had done, and how he was not a hero," said Jamie Gilbert, Native American liaison at Niagara Wheatfield.

Vazquez said she understands that some are not in favor of the change, and that Italian Americans in particular champion the day for the accomplishments of Italians. The board expects to hear from members of the public Tuesday night.

"I’m hoping it will be very cordial, very respectful," she said. "I just hope we can be respectful even if we disagree."

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