SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The South Kingstown Town Council on Tuesday took tentative steps toward creating a local day of observance for indigenous people, but members also had little desire to see such a day replace Columbus Day.
The council directed Town Manager Rob Zarnetske to schedule a future meeting or work session with leaders of the local Native American Indian tribes to discuss the proposal, which has its roots in a resolution the South Kingstown School Committee adopted Oct. 15.
That resolution proclaimed that going forward, Columbus Day will be called Indigenous Peoples’ Day within the South Kingstown School District.
School Committee Vice Chair Sarah Markey said she’s heard from parents and members of the local Native American community that have advocated for the change.
“Certainly we’ve seen a lot of movement like that across the country,” Markey said. “I understand for some people this isn’t a priority, but it is for others, and I think our job as a committee is to respond to the interests and priorities of everyone.”
Markey also said she wants her sons to attend schools that “really teach … both of them about the strengths and stories of people whose culture might be different from his, and schools that actively seek to combat prejudice and discrimination.”
The School Committee resolution also reaffirms the district’s commitment to the well-being of every student, including Native Americans, and promotes and expands partnerships with organizations from the Native American community, Markey said.
“This resolution also helps us make sure our policies are culturally reflective and really engage the voice of Native folks in our policy review,” she said.
Town Council Vice President Bryant DaCruz said he is supportive, but would want any potential Indigenous Peoples’ Day observance to fall on a day other than Columbus Day.
“I think having them both on the same day causes some conflict, and I’d like to see it on a different day, if we’re going to do it,” he said.
DaCruz said everyone is entitled to their own opinion about Columbus Day.
“I don’t feel Columbus discovered America, but some people feel that way. I just think that taking one away to put another in its place doesn’t create a good feeling for most people in the community, in my opinion.”
Rory McEntee agrees with the School Committee resolution, but doesn’t see a need to “do away” with Columbus Day.
“I think if we’d like to do something as Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I’m comfortable with that,” he said.
Council member Deborah Kelso said she wants to have the meeting with local tribes before any action is taken.
“We should have a conversation with the folks involved, and that hasn’t happened, I guess, in forever, so it’s time. I fully support the language in the resolution, but we as a council have an obligation to speak with the parties involved.”
Council President Abel Collins agreed, and cited the town’s long history with tribes such as the Narragansetts and the illustration of an arrowhead at the center of the town seal as reasons to open a dialogue.
“Obviously the indigenous people here should have more of a say, and I look forward to that work session,” he said.