Editorial: Putting respect on the calendar

Administrators should recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day

In 1992, Berkeley was the first city in the U.S. to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to UC Berkeley’s website. A city in the heart of the Bay Area was what led us to where we are now as a nation, with organizations like the Smithsonian, PBS, and even the United Nations acknowledging Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Over the past three decades, other cities have followed in Berkeley’s footsteps. Specifically, many Bay Area schools have begun to celebrate the holiday. Homestead, Mountain View, Sequoia, Berkeley, and Lowell high schools are just a few. 

And yet, when you type “Indigenous” into the search bar of Palo Alto High School’s website, nothing shows up. On Oct. 10, or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we instead have a mysterious “Staff Development Day.”

No Columbus Day, it’s true. But no Indigenous Peoples’ Day either. Instead, we get a strange middle ground.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 0.4% of Palo Alto’s population is Indigenous (classified officially as “American Indian and Alaskan Native”). This may be the reason Paly has not yet acknowledged Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

However, in some aspects, it’s even more important for Paly to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day because of this. Non-Indigenous Paly students don’t have many Indigenous peers in their classrooms or community, so it’s even more important that Indigenous people are highlighted in the classroom.

Paly recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day could bring with it opportunities for humanities classrooms to teach lessons on the fight for Indigenous rights that pervades into the modern day. This is similar to how we often have Civil Rights-focused lessons surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. day.

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day also paves the way for acknowledging other awareness days.

So why don’t we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day? And what level of celebrating the holiday is even plausible?

At the district level, board members say that we only observe state and federal holidays on the PAUSD calendar. 

“I can’t recall the district designating or observing additional holidays in the past, though it is possible that we have,” board member Todd Collins told Anthro Magazine.

Letting staff take the day off for Indigenous Peoples’ Day would have to be negotiated between staff, unions, and the board. Board vice president Jennifer DiBrienza said that the district would have to add another day to the calendar to make up for the professional development time that would be lost. 

I am a strong supporter of our students, at all grade levels, learning about the contributions of the people who are Indigenous to these lands we now occupy.

— Board vice president Jennifer DiBrienza

Another calendar day would cost around 1.2 million dollars because of the salary expenses, according to DiBrienza.

“It’s something we could consider but would be discussed by the board to determine where that $1.2 million would come from annually,” DiBrienza said.

Board member Jesse Ladomirak said that she believes that student activism can help create change at the school level.

“Of course schools can acknowledge, recognize, and celebrate, and I think student advocacy around this at the site level…could be really impactful,” Ladomirak said.

DiBrienza clarified how this advocacy could actually be productive.

“I think it would take conversations with the entities that usually organize such celebrations,” DiBrienza said. “Mr. Gallagher is in charge of ASB and they may put something on — especially if there is a club that is interested in taking the lead. Mr. Kline would probably be the starting point on trying to get a celebration going at Paly specifically.”

DiBrienza said that she would like schools to focus on the topic of Indigenous people and their history more.

“I am a strong supporter of our students, at all grade levels, learning about the contributions of the people who are Indigenous to these lands we now occupy,” DiBrienza said.

Yes, many schools are far behind us. Many schools still celebrate Columbus Day. But, don’t we want to be known as among the first to give importance to the struggles and rights of Indigenous people, rather than the last?

Though it is likely not feasible for PAUSD to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the calendar, Paly should host celebrations in honor of the day, perhaps on the following Tuesday, or the previous Friday. Paly social sciences classes should also work to center Indigenous Peoples’ history on the days surrounding Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

US History and Gender Studies teacher Jaclyn Edwards said that the social studies department has room to grow in terms of including Indigenous Peoples’ issues outside of the Westward Expansion unit.

“It [celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day] sends the right message and tone,” Edwards said. “What schools could do is that they can broaden, at least, a student’s point of view of like, why has this day been renamed?”