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SUNY Students Drop Columbus Day Name for Indigenous Peoples’ Day


After a growing number of U.S. cities and states rebranded Columbus Day and called it Indigenous Peoples’ Day, students at the State University of New York have joined the movement.

Columbus Day traditionally recognizes explorer Christopher Columbus' 1492 arrival in the Americas. Critics say the holiday whitewashes America's painful history of colonialism, slavery, and the damage of Native American cultures.

In spring 2016, the SUNY Student Assembly passed with an overwhelming majority, a resolution calling for the schools to celebrate Native Americans and recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Marc Cohen, SUNY SA president, said the decision is a progressive movement toward empathy and realization.

“We need to recognize the contributions that Native Americans have made to our present-day culture,” said Cohen, “This is an entire community that has been marginalized and discriminated against, even in present-day America, and that needs to stop.”

SUNY SA is made up of student leaders elected by their peers from across SUNY’s 64 campuses.

"The student assembly is not trying to take Christopher Columbus out of the history books," Cohen explained, "What we’re trying to do is tell the other side of the story."

The cities of Phoenix and Denver are among a handful which will celebrate their first Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday. Many other cities are in support of recognizing Native American people on Columbus Day, but not all have jumped at the chance to change the federal holiday's name.

While most federal workers get the day off, only about half the states give their workers Columbus Day as a paid holiday, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. 

Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News in 2015 as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York and also does general assignment reporting. Sasha-Ann is the host of Arts InFocus, WXXI-TV's weekly arts and culture program. She is also a fill-in host and regular contributor to Need To Know.