One Circle, Two Opinions: Indigenous Peoples’ Day One Circle, Two Opinions: The Celebration Of Indigenous Peoples' Day

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — As those in favor of the Columbus statue cleared out, those in favor of its removal poured in. The Women of Italian Syracuse Heritage (WISH), Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation (NOON) and the Resilient Indigenous Action Collective (RIAC) took to Columbus circle to demand the change that was discussed this time last year by Mayor Ben Walsh. Colleen Zawadzki, member of WISH, said that although they were hosting this competing event, their intentions came from a peaceful place.

“We believe in truth telling and revealing the true history of what happened,” said Zawadzki. “Supporting the goal of creating the heritage circle with a different monument or something the is representative of compassionate understanding of Italian heritage.

Truth telling and revealing history is nothing new for Zawadzki who is a former social studies teacher for the Syracuse City School District. However when it came to Native American history, things just didn’t add up for her.

“I remember so many things that we learned about were never really highlighted,” said Zawadzki. “I know I should have learned about it in school. I mean I know this must have been apart of my education but it was not emphasized in our textbooks and in my teaching.”

An instance that Onondaga Nation Representative Speaker, Cecilia Elm of the Onondaga Nation could also relate to. Elm took the stage and shared her own personal story of a teacher that shared a history lesson that she says was based in fiction and misinformation.

“I let the teacher give his lesson and the whole time I was thinking everything was wrong that he was saying,” said Elm.

Listening to stories like Elm’s and taking time to familiarize herself with surrounding cultures through her participation in WISH, Zawadzki said her opinion has completely been changed.

“When I heard that the Onondaga Nation went from 2.5 million acres, to 7,500 in less than 70 years, that was shocking to me,” said Zawadzki. “When I heard for instance that Mussolini helped fund sending the statue here. It was during the depression, it was massive, it was expensive to ship. I had never heard about that, I never learned about that. It was through the things that I learned about in the last year and a half. There are some things that we can learn about and no matter what we do we cannot change the minds of others… but it’s changed my mind.”

Although Zawadzki hopes for change to come in the form of a new symbol, hero or metaphor, she also hopes that knowledge uplifting the Haudenosaunee people continues to spread throughout communities.

“It is a way of paying it forward and helping through those baby steps and those little butterfly wings of helping people learn a little bit more about our true history,” said Zawadzki.


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