D.C. adopts Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Burke sticks with “fall break”

Columbus Day is in the past, at least for now. On October 10, 2019, the Council of the District of Columbia voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day (IPD). The change is temporary, but the council hopes to make it a permanent way to honor Indigenous Peoples nationwide. The idea for this change originated in South Dakota in 1989, when Governor George Mickelson backed a resolution to create Native American Day on the second Monday of October. Then Berkeley, California adopted a new resolution for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, which coincided with the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christoper Columbus in America. 

“It’s about celebrating people instead of thinking about somebody who caused genocide on a population or tried to cause the genocide of an entire population. By bringing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we’re bringing awareness that we’re not going to allow someone like that to be glorified into a hero, because of the hurt that he caused to Indigenous people of America,” said Baley Champagne, who lobbied the Louisiana legislation for the adoption of the resolution of IPD, in an NPR interview.

“Columbus Day originated in the United States primarily as a way for Italian American immigrants (Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy) to celebrate their status in their new land,” wrote Henry Olsen in an October 14th column for the Washington Post. Columbus never set foot in what we now call the United States of America.

In Washington and at Burke, the change remains relatively obscure. Head of School Damian Jones said, “ I’ve heard about moving to call it Indigenous Peoples’ Day from Columbus day, but I didn’t realize that it happened in DC.” 

Another point Jones mentioned was that it fits into his scheduling for “ensuring that every six weeks, we [teachers, students, and other staff] have some time off.” When asked if he knew the reason the holiday appears on Burke’s calendar as ‘Fall Break,’ he responded, “It has always just been called fall break and that’s what it was called when I got here. I don’t know what my predecessors were thinking.” 

For now, Jones is not thinking of changing the name from fall break to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.