A couple of years ago, Millvale police Chief Tim Komoroski had his officers’ uniform patches modified to include images of Native American war bonnets in order to reflect the borough’s ties to Indigenous Peoples.
At a May 14 council meeting, Junior councilman Jimmy Burn announced a change along the same lines by declaring the second Monday in October — when Columbus Day is observed — Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Shaler residents KickingBear Coe, of Ute and Dakota heritage; Arlynna Evans, Cherokee and Blackfoot; and their young son, SunBear; along with Millvale resident Lisa Love, Mi’kmaq, clapped and banged a traditional drum in celebration of the news.
Love said she is appreciative that Burn took the initiative at such a young age to impart a lasting impact for local Indigenous People.
“One of the things that Jimmy specifically took pride in was talking about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And we as a council, with the borough and the mayor, have decided to do a proclamation to include Indigenous Peoples’ Day on our borough calendar,” council President James Machajewski said.
Burn presented information during a Dec. 11 council workshop session regarding the fact that, in 1492, Columbus departed from Spain and found the Bahamas, not America. Columbus also enslaved the Indigenous People he encountered throughout his travels and introduced diseases to Native Americans.
Additionally, Burn informed attendees that Millvale was the home to the Seneca people until the 1700s.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a federal holiday in 1937, following lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic-based fraternal organization.
Coe said that Native Americans were once subject to religious persecution in this country.
“Native Americans don’t want to step over Italian people. They have every right to celebrate their religion. … They are more than Columbus — they have artisans, cuisine, culture.”
Evans mentioned that, in addition to her Native American background, she has Italian ethnicity.
Burn approached his multicultural studies teacher, Nick Haberman, for assistance with the proposal. Fellow student Natalie Deutchbauer helped Burn prepare the December presentation he gave to council.
“I would like to bring Natalie up, too, because without her, it wouldn’t have been possible,” Burn said following his proclamation. “She’s helped me with everything throughout this year.”
The efforts are part of Haberman’s LIGHT education Initiative — Leadership through Innovation in Genocide and Human rights Teaching.
“This is a positive accomplishment and we are extremely appreciative that the mayor and council have taken this step as this proclamation enables us to further raise awareness and educate other communities on the topic,” he said. “Personally, there is a sense of accomplishment that I was able to work with my community in order to bring Indigenous Peoples Day to Millvale.”
“My goal with the LIGHT Education Initiative was to create leadership opportunities for students to feel empowered to make positive, lasting changes to their school and community through an innovative approach to human rights education,” Haberman said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Jimmy for embracing LIGHT, taking on an issue he identified within his community and making a lasting change through the political process. At a young age, he showed his peers the power in civic engagement. He said he was going to make a difference, he remained dedicated and patient and he achieved his goal.”
“I was honored to have Jimmy prepare and officially enact the proclamation that he worked so hard on for the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Millvale,” Mayor Brian Spoales said.
Machajewski said that council will invite Burn to return to its October meeting when the proclamation is issued again.