TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Legislators have approved a new official holiday in Tompkins County — Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The holiday will fall on the second Monday in October. The day is meant to honor the county’s indigenous roots and acknowledges that the community stands on lands of the Cayuga Nation and Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

The resolution was supported by several members of the public that came to speak, including Sachem Sam George, one of the 10 chiefs of the Cayuga Nation.

“Welcome to Cayuga territory, you’ve probably never heard that before,” George said. “Some of you probably know where you are, some don’t.”

George said he is happy that after so many years, the culture and language are beginning to come back.

Sachem Sam George speaks at the Finger Lakes International Dragon Boat Festival on July 14. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
Sachem Sam George speaks at the Finger Lakes International Dragon Boat Festival on July 14. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

“The Cayuga Nation itself has been taken out of here since over 250 years. The people are back here. We’re not going anywhere. We’ve always been here. Whether it be those noises that you hear in the middle of the night or some strange voice or a drum playing someplace, those are our ancestors letting you know we are still here,” George said.

The resolution passed Tuesday recognizes the contributions indigenous peoples have made in knowledge, labor, science, philosophy, arts and culture that helped shape Tompkins County.

Related: Opinion: Explaining why Tompkins, Ithaca should formally adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Fabina Colon, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, also spoke in support of the resolution. She said as an indigenous person who has lived in the community for many years, she has unfortunately experienced that indigenous peoples’ history has been almost erased.

“In our educational system, we learn about indigenous peoples as if they were a thing of the past,” Colon said. “And that continues to happen in our education system.”

Colon said indigenous peoples and Cayuga Nation were driven violently from this land.

“We owe it as a community, first and foremost, to build acknowledgement of this history and that we can’t continue to erase this history and we can’t continue to put it under the rug. And we must have dialogue and conversation, both in our educational systems as well as in our communities of the real history of this land, the people who continue to stand on this land and will continue to be here.”

Legislators unanimously supported the move to make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a holiday in Tompkins County.

A similar resolution was proposed in Tompkins County, but it was sent back to committee. However, last year the City of Ithaca passed a resolution to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday and took it a step further by replacing Columbus Day.

Though it will fall on the same day as Columbus Day, the county’s resolution is not written to replace the holiday.

Legislator Mike Lane emphasized that the resolution does not replace Columbus Day and said he would not support it if it did.

“There’s nothing here that says we’re doing away with Columbus. If it said that I would be not supportive. If a year from now somebody comes along with a resolution saying that now we’ve got Indigenous Peoples’ Day now we can do away with Columbus Day, I will oppose that, but I think this is fine to celebrate this,” Lane said. “Indigenous people have been and are an important part fact in our community. We’re pleased to have them here. It’s the same with all of our immigrants and other people that are here. They accepted us and we accept them and we want them to understand that they matter to us.”

The resolution is below:

Indigenous Peoples’ Day Resolution by Kelsey O’Connor on Scribd

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.