Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day: What NJ towns celebrate
At least two New Jersey communities officially are observing Indigenous Peoples Day on what traditionally has been Columbus Day.
A proposal to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day statewide was introduced by Hudson County state Sen. Brian Stack back in September, but was withdrawn from consideration just two weeks later.
Days before it was withdrawn, the proposal was blasted by the Jersey City Columbus Day parade committee on its Facebook page, writing "To all the thousands of Hudson County residents of Italian American descent, especially those that recently lost their job or home, or shutdown their business, or lost a family member: remember that Sen. Stack, who is up for reelection next November (2021), has deemed that erasing the celebration of our proud Italian-American heritage is more important than focusing his undivided attention on the State's recovery from this pandemic."
Newark has been officially observing the Indigenous Peoples Day since 2017, when Mayor Ras Baraka signed an executive order to that effect. On the Newark public school calendar, the holiday is marked as Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Last year, Princeton's mayor and municipal council passed a resolution that declares the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day out of observance of at least three Native American tribes with historic roots in New Jersey, which only recently received official recognition.
Indigenous Peoples Day recognizes Native Americans, who were the first inhabitants of the land that later became the United States of America.
"Although at one time a widely celebrated figure of American history, Christopher Columbus’s legacy has become controversial as his harsh treatment of indigenous people has become more widely known," according to the since-withdrawn legislation sponsored by Stack.
In spring 2019, the Bergen County community of Glen Rock was the focus of another Columbus Day debate, as the council considered a request from several residents, before unanimously deciding to keep the traditional holiday on the calendar.
For New Jersey communities with strong Italian-American heritage, not only does Columbus Day live on, but there are often parades and festivals alongside the fall weekend — though many have been cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jersey City Columbus parade committee was among those to rework its plans, with an outdoor picnic this past weekend instead of a parade and a wreath-laying at the Christopher Columbus statue that still stands in the city.
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937.
Stack's withdrawn measure noted that the area now known as New Jersey was first settled over 10,000 years ago by the Lenape, an Algonquian-speaking people whose lands also included present-day Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Currently, three indigenous tribes are recognized in the state — the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape of Cumberland and Salem Counties, the Powhatan Renape of Burlington County and the Ramapough Lenape of Mahwah and Ringwood.
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