October 9th: A Day of Reflection

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue…and chopped off the hands of the Taíno people when they didn’t produce enough gold for him and his men. 


You may have noticed based on your activated alarm clocks this morning, that unlike banks, the bond market and some surrounding school districts, Fairfield Public Schools is open on the first Monday of October.


The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day was on October 12, 1792, 300 years after Columbus landed in the Americas. The glorification of Columbus as an American hero only grew from there, propagated even further by Washington Irving’s 1828 book: A History of the Life and Voyages of  Christopher Columbus. This piece portrayed Columbus as a benevolent savior toward the indigenous populace when, in reality, he was anything but. 


During Columbus’s voyages he created a culture of oppression and incessant violence. Bartolomé de las Casas, describing his first hand account of the atrocities said: “They [Spanish explorers] forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth.” Even, after the Taíno population significantly declined due to this abuse, Columbus’s men abducted more people from the neighboring island of Lucayan. 


Despite the facts, the myth of Columbus prevailed and in 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt made Columbus Day a national holiday. 


Considering this horrific history, removing the day altogether may seem like the best attempt at compensating for centuries of Columbus inspired propaganda. This is a stance Fairfield Public School’s has taken. However, neighboring Connecticut school districts like Weston and Wilton, have chosen an alternative: replacing ‘Columbus Day’ with a celebration of the very people he oppressed.


This holiday is Indigenous People’s Day, a day quite simply meant to both celebrate the culture of and acknowledge the history of Indigenous people in the United States, a history that has been littered with oppression. While this holiday was only officially recognized by the Biden administration in 2021, it has historical precedent far predating that.  


In 1990, South Dakota made history by being the first state to celebrate the day, calling it ‘Native American Day.’ Following suit, Berkeley, California, adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, as a form of protest against the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival. Presently, over 130 cities and according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “more than a dozen,” states, commemorate this holiday.


Warde Junior, Charlotte Stack, however has noticed a trend that makes her apprehensive to view making Indigenous People’s day a district wide holiday, as the best option.


“As much as I love a day off when [students] have these three day weekend’s we don’t use them as a day to celebrate we use it as a day to sleep in or go on vacation.” Stack said.


Stack proposed an alternative, that she believes will actively address the history of this day.


“This day could be used as a day to learn about indigenous people or Columbus’s terrible actions,” Stack said. 


Any of these seem like a glowing alternative to the denial that we have been operating off of as a district. So as we sit in our seats today this October 9th, we should ask ourselves: when will Fairfield Public Schools be on the right side of history?

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