It’s most appropriate given the presence of the Shinnecock Nation within its boundaries that the Southampton School District will now celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day in honor of the Native Americans whose cultural heritage has for too long been overlooked in our country.
The practice of celebrating the new holiday on Columbus Day is not a new one, though most school districts and states have declined to institute Indigenous Peoples Day and others have balked at replacing Columbus Day and maintain both holidays.
Columbus Day became a national holiday long ago, perhaps symbolically, since he really didn’t discover America per se. But Columbus Day has taken on a deeper meaning in many communities as a day Italian-Americans celebrate their heritage and significant achievements in this country.
Shinnecock Trustee Lance Gumbs called Columbus a “a criminal and a murderer,” a rather definitive statement about someone who lived some 700 years ago, particularly in the absence of much reliable historical data and the fact Gumbs has no standing as a historian.
More to the point, when Gumbs has been allowed to speak for the tribe, he more often than not denigrates others in his zeal to advance his own cause. Certainly, a perusal of the ranks of indigenous people will yield some bad apples. The Us against Them mentality is counter-productive; mending fences is the order of the day.
The point is, revising history is a dangerous game. It becomes Orwellian; the powers that be can actually rewrite history to the point the revision becomes the “fact” and the truth disappears. Wikipedia is riddled with whitewashed resumes; attempts to insert factual data that casts certain individuals in a truthful light is repulsed.
If the students, in fact, got the ball rolling on this initiative, we applaud the school board and administration for following up on it. Unfortunately, too many parents have complained some teachers looked the other way as peer group pressure forced many of the youngsters into submission, and that the teachers themselves lobbied for the new holiday.
What’s next? “Merry Christmas” has already been replaced with “Happy Holidays.” And what of George Washington? Should a person with wooden teeth have his very own holiday? What message does it send to our little ones, that it’s OK not to brush? Silly? Yes. But re-writing history is no laughing matter.
Why not celebrate both cultures on the same day? That a win-win for everyone and promotes unity and good will instead of divisiveness.