Local Native Americans observe Indigenous Peoples' Day, react to statue replacement

Oct 12, 2020

October 12 is a day with a mixture of meanings. For some, it’s Indigenous Peoples Day, for others it’s Italian Heritage Day, and of course federally it’s Columbus Day.

Three Buffalo Public Schools students performing traditional Haudenosaunee dances during a celebration last November.
Credit Kyle Mackie / WBFO News file

On Sunday, the city of Buffalo declared October Italian Heritage Month, and also unveiled plans by the Federation of Italian-American Societies for a new statue to honor Italian immigrants, replacing the Christopher Columbus statue taken down from Niagara Street in July after years of calls from the Indigenous community.  John Kane, a Mohawk talk radio host, said the moves are welcomed.

“The month is designated by some political powers, then so be it. And I have less of a problem with them trying to tell their Italian immigrant story, and a real connection to Italian-Americans and their ancestry,” said Kane.

Kane does take exception with the process however, when the statue was removed, there was little to no outreach to Native people.

“I think to acknowledge why they are moving away from the celebration of Christopher Columbus, I think it’s absolutely appropriate that there be some sort of Native representation,” Kane said. “They kind of snuck their little press event in without notifying any Native leadership, we ended up going there afterwards and having our own kind of ‘event’ there.”

Michael Martin, an Onondaga who serves as the executive director of Native American Community Services, grew up on the West Side of Buffalo in a diverse community of Italian-Americans and Native Americans. He said both communities are strong and proud people, and opportunities are needed to show that unity.

“In our Haudenosaunee teachings, under our Great Law of Peace, we’re reminded that we’re stronger together than we are apart,” said Martin. “The United States is founded on some of those principles of our Great Law of Peace.”

As many localities and states celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on this October 12, Martin said it’s important to not just use this day to remind of the past struggles and accomplishments of Native people, but to highlight the ones that are still happening today.

“Far too often we just get talked about as in the history books and not as here,” Martin said. “This is a recognition not only that we are here, but really a celebration of our resilience against things that have happened to our people over generations.”

Both Kane and Martin take no issues with celebrating Italian heritage, but say the celebration of Columbus as symbol in that is both blind to history and insensitive. 

WBFO reached out to the Federation of Italian-American Societies, with no response.