Williamsville School District is considering changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
The largest suburban district in Western New York, with about 10,000 students, would follow several smaller districts and communities in designating the day to recognize the history and culture of Native Americans.
Board President Toni Vazquez made the suggestion at the end of Tuesday's meeting, and the board will discuss it at its next meeting, Dec. 13. She said she had seen a presentation put together by students at Niagara Wheatfield School District, which this year changed the holiday known as Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
"I also think it would be a good idea," she said.
In Niagara Wheatfield, 7 percent of the student body is Native American. In Williamsville, the number of native students is a sliver of the enrollment, and stood at 29 students in the 2014-15 school year, according to the state figures. The Town of Newstead, Village of Akron and Town of Lewiston declared Indigenous Peoples Day last year.
Board Member Teresa Anne Leatherbarrow said she supports the idea, but said there needs to be education about the issue. She said she had a conversation recently with a family member who wanted to know why there is not the emphasis on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria – the ships that Christopher Columbus sailed – there once was.
"Don’t you know about Christopher Columbus, don’t you know the atrocities?" she replied. "There’s a lot of people who don’t know. I think it is an education issue that needs to be shared. It can be part of this discussion."
"We don’t know because we weren’t taught. Our generation and generations before weren’t taught," Vazquez said. "He did not discover America, because indigenous people were already here."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday in 1937, but it was Buffalonian Mariano A. Lucca, a crusader for Columbus, who is credited with Columbus Day being designated as an official Monday federal holiday in 1971.
Board members unanimously agreed to talk about the proposal at their next meeting, although several suggested starting the conversation then, but taking more time to involve parents, students and members of the community in the discussion.
"We certainly would want community and stakeholder involvement. Maybe we can put some sort of plan together at the next meeting and see where we want to go with it," Board Member Ronald S. Shubert said.
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