Columbus Day replaced by Indigenous People’s Day in Potsdam schools

Updated: Dec. 2, 2019 at 4:57 PM EST
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POTSDAM, N.Y. (WWNY) - Potsdam schools will no longer celebrate Columbus Day. Instead, it will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.

It all started with Potsdam elementary students reading a book about Christopher Columbus. It's called “Encounter.” They learned new things.

“I think it was a good book, because we've been learning the wrong history for a long, long time now,” said Timothy White, Lawrence Avenue Elementary student.

From the book, they learned Columbus forced people into slavery and stole gold. The story was told through the eyes of a Native American boy on an island where Columbus landed.

“It made me feel kind of mad. Because for a second I had no idea why Columbus would do something like this,” said Kwynn Russell, Lawrence Avenue Elementary student.

They wanted to do something to change things. They wanted Columbus Day changed to Indigenous People's Day. They went to the middle school to talk to other kids.

“First thing I said was I think we should change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day because Columbus is no hero,” said Mazdyn Comins, Lawrence Avenue Elementary student.

They circulated petitions. Last month, they went to the school board meeting to speak. It wasn't easy.

“When I went up, I felt super nervous,” said Miles White, Lawrence Avenue Elementary student.

“It was very scary for me,” said Cambria Britton, Lawrence Avenue Elementary student.

They got a surprise. The school board said 'yes' right that night.

So come October 12 next year, they won't be taking Columbus Day off at Potsdam schools. Instead, they'll have Indigenous People's Day off.

School officials say community reaction for the most part has been positive. They say a core belief at their schools is to promote student voice and choice.

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