ITHACA, N.Y. — After sharp back-and-forth conversation about Tompkins County officially declaring the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the resolution to do so was sent back to committee in a 10-4 vote Tuesday night.
District No. 1 Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, introduced a resolution to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday in Tompkins County on the second Monday in October, the same day as Columbus Day.
“It did not include any reference to Columbus Day specifically. I was not asking in this resolution to replace one with the other,” McBean-Clairborne said.
She said people in the county would be given the option to celebrate Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day or both if they want to to.
“I don’t know which higher power designated that there’s only group of people who can claim the second Monday in October or the fourth Wednesday in November,” she said.
In addition to the resolution, she offered up a few word changes suggested by Native Americans she has worked with to write the resolution.
That’s where the conversation began in earnest about the proposed holiday.
In particular, McBean-Clairborne suggested a change to the following part of the resolution:
WHEREAS, the members of the Tompkins County Legislature recognize that the Indigenous Peoples of the lands
that would later become known as the Americas have occupied these lands since time immemorial
She asked that the word “occupied” be changed to “owned.” She said the reason for the change is to recognize that land in Tompkins County, such as the towns of Dryden, Newfiled, Enfield and Ithaca, were forcibly taken from Native Americans who lived on and owned those lands.
She asked, “Is there anybody here who is debating the fact that these lands were owned?”
District No. 10 Legislator Dooley Kiefer debated the wording and the following exchange was had between the women:
McBean-Clairborne: They (the land) were not owned?
Kiefer: They were used. There are ecologists who say nobody owns the land. They’re used. Animals used land. Humans use land. You can’t really own land. So there’s another way to look at it.
McBean-Clairborne: Really Dooley? You don’t own the land that your house sits on?
Kiefer: Oh I follow the local laws yes.
McBean-Clairborne: You own the land your house sits on, Dooley, and so do I.
Kiefer: I do but not in the greater scheme of things.
Dan Hill, seat warmer for the Heron Clan, Cayuga Nation, also spoke endorsing the language proposed by McBean-Clairborne.
He said that when the area was colonized, the Cayuga were stripped of their right to be recognized as land owners, per law by the Vatican.
“If you did not belong to church you were not a soul. You didn’t exist as a human being,” he said.
“The resolution the way it is (with the suggested changed wording) is calling for the county and the city to acknowledge that what has been done to indigenous people is still wrong, and it still goes on. It happens in Standing Rock. It happens in Canada. It happens all over the place for extraction industries…,” Hill said.
Also speaking on behalf of passing the resolution with possible word changes was District No. 3 Legislator Carol Chock.
She asked, “The myth that we all learned in school that there was no ownership is something that people who came and conquered the lands needed to tell themselves because otherwise how do you take somebody else’s land?”
District No. 5 Legislator Jim Dennis said the wording changes were too different from the ones originally passed by the Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He suggested that the committee make the proposed changes and then present it back to the legislature.
District No. 4 Legislator Rich John also recommended that it go back to committee because of the legality of the use of the the word “owned” and the impact it could have on current-day land ownership, though County Attorney Jonathan Wood clarified that the legislature does not have the authority to make changes to land ownership.
Legislators McBean-Clairborne, Chock, Anna Kelles and Martha Robertson voted against sending the resolution back to committee. The rest of the legislators voted to send it back.
Read the entire resolution here on page 105.