Central New York, History

Syracuse Celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Rather Than Columbus Day

Members of the Syracuse community gathered to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day, rather than the typical Columbus Day.

By Sawyer Kamman SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Many across the nation had Monday off to celebrate the annual holiday, Columbus Day. However, while some were able to relax and enjoy their free time, others spent their day raising awareness for a different holiday – Indigenous People’s Day.

This day aims to bring recognition to the indigenous men, women and children of the New World that had lived their for decades prior to Columbus’ arrival. There were thousands of indigenous nations that pre existed prior to 1492, when the Spanish arrived. However after the first contact between the two vastly different cultures, the native populations were decimated over the following decades, mostly due to the treatment forced upon them by Europeans.

That’s why many people gathered in Downtown Syracuse and on the Syracuse University campus, to raise awareness in pulling attention away from Columbus, and on the indigenous people that previously occupied the New World. For some, like Regina Jones, the Assistant Director of the Native Student Program at Syracuse University, this has been a holiday she has celebrated for years.

“We have always celebrated this day, and we have always called Columbus Day Indigenous Sovereignty Day, or Indigenous Survival Day,” Jones said. “But we’ve always used the day to educate others, and that we’re still here.”

This year was the second year that Syracuse University officially recognized Indigenous People’s Day, rather than Columbus Day. That change came about from the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion, of which Francine D’Amico was one of just a few faculty members. And to her, it was an easy decision.

“For native peoples, Columbus Day is a reminder of over 500 years of loss of territory, loss of identity and loss of cultural practices,” she said.

Syracuse University honored the day with several events and informational meetings, as well as a panel in the evening. The Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation also organized the gathering in Downtown Syracuse, which drew a large crowd.