Ithaca’s Common Council unanimously passed an ordinance to recognize the second Monday of every October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to amend the city code to reflect that change on Wednesday night.
Currently, the second Monday in October is nationally recognized as Columbus Day. However, the City of Ithaca sought to change this in order to recognize that the indigenous people were on the land known as the Americas prior to Columbus’s arrival.
Beyond the national implication, Ithaca has a local obligation to the change, as it aims to recognize that Ithaca is built on land previously held by the Cayuga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
In doing so, recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day seeks to value indigenous peoples’ contributions made to the community, to promote equality and to “promote an environment where all may achieve their full potential,” the resolution read.
This ordinance will take effect immediately and has the city of Ithaca joining Cornell’s Student Assembly and Faculty Senate in recognizing this day. In 2016, Tompkins County recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day, though it is not clear if that change was permanent.
Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, who represents the Second Ward, brought the ordinance after penning a letter with the suggestion for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to his colleagues.
The letter, written on Aug. 4, says, “Many of our constituents and I believe the second Monday of October is better suited to celebrate the history and enduring cultural contributions of indigenous peoples.”
Nguyen worked in collaboration with Schelley Michell-Nunn, Ari Lavine and many indigenous groups and their allies in the community to craft this ordinance. Alexas Esposito and Maya Soto, of the Taino tribe, joined Nguyen to talk about the ordinance at the meeting.
“As the ordinance got drafted, they opened it up for us to comment on and give our input as part of the indigenous community,” Esposito said. “Part of what we have been doing as the Cayuga Lake Water Protectors is maintaining relations and keep connecting with other indigenous people in the community.”
The pair also suggested two amendments they thought were necessary to the historical accuracy and importance of the ordinance. Both amendments passed with a 8-1 vote before the entire ordinance was voted on.
The first amendment revised phrasing to make clear that land previously owned by indigenous people was still their land. The second amendment revoked the doctrine of discovery.
Set forth in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, the doctrine of discovery claimed that land not inhabited by Christians was available for discovery, claiming and exploitation by Christian rulers. Esposito and Soto thought the revocation of this doctrine was important as to be historically accurate and raise awareness about it and its consequences.
When Esposito brought the same amendments up at an earlier county meeting, she said there “was a lot of disrespect towards indigenous people at the meeting and there was little acceptance of the suggestions that we had, which were similar to the amendments made tonight.”
“It was really disheartening to see that there was a group of people that had to make a decision and had to pass it back to go through it all over again, when the reality was there was a group of people there willing to offer their help,” she added.
She was even more shocked that most of them did not know what the doctrine of discovery was.
As a result, Esposito was “extremely happy,” when Common Council made their decision.
“I think this is larger than the history of this specific area. I think this is a day to recognize indigenous people throughout the United States and throughout the world and the consequences they have experienced as a result of colonization,” Alderperson Cynthia Brock, who represents the first ward, said in response to the doctrine of discovery amendment.