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Some Italian-Americans choose to honor indigenous people today, instead of Columbus

Payne Horning
WRVO News File Photo

A wreath laying ceremony and luncheon in downtown Syracuse today will recognize the contributions of Italian-Americans and Christopher Columbus on this Columbus Day, but not all Italian-Americans are on board with this view of the famous explorer. Instead, they're honoring the indigenous people of the Americas.

Cindy Squillace of Syracuse is Italian-American. It was when she learned about the oppression of indigenous peoples by European explorers centuries ago, she found she couldn’t celebrate Columbus Day anymore.

"When I realized that in my name as an Italian-American, Columbus was being raised up as kind of a hero, it made me really sad,” Squillace said.

She plans to take part in a celebration in Syracuse Monday to raise awareness of the history that she says isn’t in history books. What bothers her about Columbus, she said, is that he led the way for others to oppress the people already in the Americas when he landed in the Caribbean in 1492.

"It set off a chain of explorers who took advantage of people where they landed," she said. "So that whole concept of not treating human beings in respectful, kind ways, actually pillaging and murdering, he kind of coined the term with that.”

Squillace said she would ultimately like to see values in society reflect respect and kindness for each other and the earth.  Along with the afternoon celebration in Syracuse Monday, Syracuse University and SUNY ESF will hold events celebrating indigenous people across central New York.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.