Every fall in Sheridan County, on the second Monday of October, Sheridan County School District 2 happens to have a “teacher in-service” day. There is always another in-service day on the third Monday in January. Academic calendars make no mention that those days are federally designated for, respectively, Indigenous Peoples’ Day/Columbus Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Why does this feel like avoidance? Or cowardice?
While districts differ around the state, we are unique in not even naming these holidays on the calendar. Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Good Friday all appear as reasons for time off from school. Why are these two holidays invisible? It might seem a small thing, but so is having a “day” for something, in the grand scheme. On the other hand, such symbols have power, telling a story about us, the collective people of a nation.
As for why school officials would avoid Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday since 1983, I’ll let you do your own research. I want to address Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Although Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first instituted in 1992, as an alternative to the national celebration of Christopher Columbus, President Biden officially recognized the change in 2021.
Many places, including in Wyoming, have long listed Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day together. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Many places also celebrate the second Monday in October as a culmination of Italian American Heritage month. Again, Google it for some fascinating research. My point is it appears we don’t find anything to celebrate on those days in Sheridan County.
As a parent with children in the district, I know that we are not doing enough to teach students about the range of American identities. I’m not talking about “out there” in the wide, liberal world. I’m talking about our community. I saw a documentary on the ugly subject of sexual assault against indigenous women at the WYO Film Festival recently. A short film on the same subject, by a Sheridan director and about local indigenous women, was presented before the feature. The Sheridan I saw in the conversation afterward between the filmmakers and the audience was one to be proud of; unafraid to ask hard questions, and aware of our failings. Everyone’s heart sunk when one of the young women asked something along the lines of, “If I disappeared from the Crow reservation, would people in Sheridan even know about it?”
It’s not that the schools are unable or unwilling to approach ambiguity, nuance or controversy. See their explorations of the legacies of Tom Horn and William J. Fetterman. Why, then, do we duck the historic issues of racism, genocide, etc. that continue to affect our community today?