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Happy Indigenous People’s Day

From the Berkshire Eagle two years ago:

Williams College celebrates its last Columbus Day

In ending the Columbus Day off at Williams College, it came down to accounting.

Sure enough, the current calendar makes no mention of Columbus. Would you, dear reader, have predicted that a decade or two ago? Me either! What changes will come by 2029? There is no longer a reference to either Veteran’s Day or Christmas in the calendar. I am not sure when those disappeared. “Thanksgiving” is still mentioned, but for how much longer?

The faculty voted to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday for faculty, staff and students about six months ago.

How long before the #MeToo movement comes from MLK?

The human resources department determined the college would trade off another holiday — Columbus Day — rather than adding another holiday to the calendar.

“This was just a simple trade-off,” said Jim Reische, chief communications officer at Williams College. “We didn’t do anything with Columbus Day. It was just a three-day weekend.”

Could this be (just!) about holiday bookkeeping? Perhaps! The College is a business and needs to track vacation days.

Administrative staff still had the day off on Monday, but that will change come next year. Classes still met.

Administrative staff will still be allowed to take the Columbus Day off next year if they choose, but they’ll have to use a floating holiday day. There will be classes on that day.

“The major driver was — we needed to consider MLK Day a holiday,” Reische said. “There was a strong push to make that a day off, to recognize it.”

“Push” from whom? I doubt that the typical dining services worker cares which holiday she gets. If anything, I bet that the preferences run the other way. The vast majority of Williams employees (below the faculty) are white working class, many of them Italian-Americans. An enterprising Record reporter would interview them . . .

And isn’t a holiday in the Berkshires in the fall much more desirable than one in January?

More important to the college in terms of programming is Claiming Williams Day, which began in 2009 after a series of racist and sexist incidents on campus in 2008, Reische said.

Can we please get our history straight? There was one key incident that drove Claiming Williams.

Claiming Williams Day includes a full roster of programming exploring what it means to be a diverse and inclusive campus, he said.

“It’s much more about academic and community-building than anything we ever did with Columbus Day,” he said.

Well, sure. But aren’t these separate issues? Issue one: Which holidays does Williams officially recognize and give staff members a day off for? Issue two: What events does Williams schedule on which days? The former has little to do with the latter.

The town of Williamstown took a different direction on Columbus Day earlier this year.

In May, town meeting voters agreed to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Williamstown Elementary School labeled Monday’s holiday Indigenous Peoples Day on its website as of Monday morning.

If I were Trump, I would make a huge deal out of Columbus Day: big celebration at the White House, perhaps a speech about how Democrats consider Italian-Americans to be deplorables, an (outrageous) proposal that any town/city/state which wants federal funds must celebrate Columbus Day. There would be few better ways of motivating the voters he, and the Republicans, will need in November.

Political Science 101 at Williams taught me that, he who picks the issue to fight over, wins. In any fight between “Columbus Day” and “Indigenous Peoples Day,” Trump wins easily.

Trump reads EphBlog! Last year, two hours after this post went up, he tweeted:

How long before Democratic activists start to attack Columbus?

Or maybe Trump is saving this as a fight to have in the fall of 2020?

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Happy Indigenous People’s Day"

#1 Comment By Current Student On October 14, 2019 @ 9:55 am

“Can we please get our history straight?”

David, I learned in eighth grade that Columbus committed genocide. I learned it again in tenth grade when we were assigned to read the first chapter of A People’s History. You’re behind the times.

#2 Comment By abl On October 14, 2019 @ 10:27 am

Yea, to be fair, Columbus was really pretty bad.

#3 Comment By Eph Williams On October 14, 2019 @ 12:11 pm

“Trump reads EphBlog!”
That’s not an accolade worth trump-eting these days.

DDF, you have too much time on your hands.
You need a real hobby.

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 14, 2019 @ 5:55 pm

> I learned in eighth grade that Columbus committed genocide.

What sort of madrassa did you go to? In order to commit “genocide” you must intend to do it. Columbus had no such intent.

At worst, he was guilty of manslaughter, but, even there, it was a manslaughter which was inevitable. Millions of Indigenous peoples were doomed, because of the biological realities of differing immune systems.

> Columbus was really pretty bad.

How so? If Columbus had died at birth, how many lives would have been saved? Round numbers: zero.

#5 Comment By abl On October 14, 2019 @ 7:05 pm

On his first day in the New World, he ordered six of the natives to be seized, writing in his journal that he believed they would be good servants. Throughout his years in the New World, Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits. Later, Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino “Indians” from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route.

Those left behind were forced to search for gold in mines and work on plantations. Within 60 years after Columbus landed, only a few hundred of what may have been 250,000 Taino were left on their island.

[Also], [i]n response to native unrest and revolt, Columbus ordered a brutal crackdown in which many natives were killed; in an attempt to deter further rebellion, Columbus ordered their dismembered bodies to be paraded through the streets.

Source: https://www.history.com/news/columbus-day-controversy

Also see: https://rapidcityjournal.com/lifestyles/people/top-atrocities-committed-by-christopher-columbus/collection_76ebb2b8-f63d-11e3-a137-001a4bcf887a.html#5

So yea, aside from his role in spreading disease, he was bad. He was so bad that the Spanish monarchy–not exactly known for its empathy or compassion to the Native American population–removed him from his governorship position and ultimately detained him.

#6 Comment By abl On October 14, 2019 @ 7:07 pm

Happy Columbus Day!

[Columbus] and his men ordered all natives 14 years or older to collect a certain amount of gold every three months. Natives who didn’t collect enough gold had their hands cut off. But it was an impossible tasks. There was virtually no gold around; only a little dust in streams. Many natives fled and were consequently hunted down and killed by the Spaniards.


#7 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 14, 2019 @ 7:37 pm

abl: I am happy to grant that Columbus was a very bad man. But there is a difference between that and being guilty of genocide.

#8 Comment By ’89’er On October 14, 2019 @ 8:11 pm

The sense of parody is strong within you. This is better than your zealous defense of free expression followed by the imposition of censorship.

Well played.

What next? Support for an America first President who puts his own self interest baldly ahead of his duty to country?

#9 Comment By BH On October 14, 2019 @ 8:15 pm

Isn’t this just the same post you put up last year?

For the record, I grew up in a politically conservative Italian American family. No one gave a crap about Columbus Day (the Sopranos is not, surprisingly enough, a fully accurate depiction of all Italian Americans…).

More to the political point, can you point to any electoral advantage for Trump in making this a major issue? Again, though my sample is small, none of my relatives care much about this (and many are already Trump supporters). Can you name a state that Trump lost in which there enough Italian Americans who feel strongly about this issue to change their votes and flip the state? Do you have any evidence whatsoever that Italian Americans strongly associate an anti-Columbus Day stance with specific democrats? The only person I’ve heard complaining loudly and publicly about slurs against Italian Americans was Fredo…I mean Cuomo.

#10 Comment By abl On October 14, 2019 @ 10:03 pm

DDF – I didn’t use the word “genocide.” I wrote: “Yea, to be fair, Columbus was really pretty bad.”

#11 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 14, 2019 @ 10:50 pm

abl: I should have made clear that that response was to Current Student.

#12 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 14, 2019 @ 10:51 pm

> Isn’t this just the same post you put up last year?

Yes. Indeed, there are 30 or so posts that I will put up in 2019 that are (almost) identical to posts that I have put up in the past. Think of these as my annual lectures, akin to Professor Stoddard’s A Sense of Where You Are.

#13 Comment By abl On October 14, 2019 @ 11:30 pm

Any chance you’ll make some changes next year to recognize that he was a “very bad man?”

#14 Comment By fendertweed On October 15, 2019 @ 1:38 pm

“ Think of these as my annual lectures, akin to Professor Stoddard’s A Sense of Where You Are.”

Wow. Misplaced hubris much? Or did you leave out the “LoL”? Ouch.