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Protest held in Columbus Park amid annual Columbus Day controversy

Buffalo Public Schools found a compromise
Posted at 6:23 PM, Oct 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-14 23:17:08-04

BUFFALO, WKBW — It's a holiday which is now surrounded by controversy. In Buffalo around 20 people stood in Columbus Park to protest Columbus Day.

"It's an insult and it flies in the face of Native people," said John Kane, who lives on the Cattaraugus territory of the Seneca Nation. He led a demonstration in front of the Christopher Columbus statue on Porter Avenue in Buffalo.

"Most of what we are battling here is the celebration of someone who committed unbelievable atrocities against Native people," said Kane.

On the other side of the debate are those who feel the holiday is significant for those of Italian heritage.

"Columbus is obviously very important to us because he was a hero...he's one of the greatest mariners the world has ever known," said Joseph Fiorella, Second Vice President of the Federation of Italian-American Societies of WNY.

In Erie County--the Town of Newstead alongside the Village of Akron and the Tonawanda Seneca Nation have recognized Indigenous Peoples Day since 2015. According to this CNN report, it's the same if you take a trip down the 90 to Ithaca. All joining more than 100 cities across the country in doing the same.

Meanwhile in the Big Apple, the 75th Annual Columbus Day Parade shut down Midtown Manhattan where both the New York Governor and New York City Mayor marched alongside thousands.

This community debate has an impact on the classroom. Many school districts are asked to choose: to celebrate or not to celebrate Columbus Day. Buffalo Public Schools is leaving it up to the students to decide.

"We want them to have an understanding of multiple perspectives. We'd like them to make a proposal moving forward for the naming of the day," said Anne Botticelli, Chief Academic Officer at Buffalo Public Schools.

They haven't put an exact timeline on this.

We asked both sides how they feel about this decision.

"I think it's great to get input from students, perhaps they should educate the students first. Let's teach the truth to the students," said Kane.

"They're pitting two ethnic groups, Italians and Indigenous People against each other," said Fiorella.

Both groups say they'll continue to fight to have their heritage recognized.