Rochester celebrates Indigenous People's Day and Columbus Day amid controversy

Oct 14, 2019

Monday was the second annual celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day in Rochester. It was also Columbus Day, which has served as a day for Italian-Americans in Rochester to celebrate their heritage. The city recognizes both holidays, which has stirred some controversy. 

From left to right: Aimee Carpenter (Seneca Nation), Char Guess Bardques (Cherokee Nation), Ronalyn “Ronnie” Pollack (Mississaugas of the Credit, First Nation, Mohawk) Executive director of Native American Cultural Center, and Craig Day Marvin (Akwesane, Mohawk / Wolf Clan)
Credit Noelle E. C. Evans / WXXI News

Craig Marvin led a public demonstration of Haudenosaunee social dances on Indigenous People's Day, Monday. Marvin is Mohawk and Wolf Clan of the Akwesane Reservation. 

"This day, it means a lot to Native American people, I think it’s just more important now that Native Americans come to a forefront and, you know, educate the public on our heritage and that we’re still here," Marvin says.

The dance was one of a few social dances shared with the public at the Native American Cultural Center in Rochester. Ronnie Pollack with the center says that too often, Native Americans and First Nation people are referred to in the past, from when the United States was still being formed.

"This day, you know, brings honor to those who have gone before us and have suffered and it brings honor to us being here today," she says.

While Indigenous Peoples' Day was being celebrated in and around Rochester, so too was Columbus Day, which remains a federal holiday. Over at the Diplomat Banquet Hall, the 79th annual celebration of Italian-American heritage on Columbus Day was also taking place Monday.

Quintino DiCesar, president of the Italian Civic League, says that Indigenous Peoples' Day and Columbus Day can exist at the same time.

Quintino DiCesar, President of the Italian Civic League stands beside his wife at the 79th annual Columbus Day luncheon.
Credit Noelle E. C. Evans / WXXI News

"I don’t have nothing against them. They can celebrate in anything they want to celebrate. But for us, it’s Columbus Day," he says.

For him, the holiday is about celebrating Italian heritage.

"In the same time, what’s most important is the Italian heritage, what Italians have accomplished in the United States… that’s what we celebrated today: our heritage," he says.

Pollack says that for her, Columbus represents a dark time in history and the suffering of Indigenous people.

"It’s unfortunate because I feel that Columbus is such an unfair representation of Italian-Americans. There’s, I mean, a plethora of people that they could choose from to represent them. You know, there’s tons of people, famous artists, composers," she says.

Indigenous People’s Day is recognized in various states, cities, and municipalities across the U.S. This year, that includes Washington, D.C., as well as Louisiana and New Mexico, among others that have formally recognized the holiday. In Rochester, it’s recognized as a proclamation.

"Moving forward, we would still like to move toward getting a resolution for Indigenous People’s Day to be recognized in Rochester," Pollack says.