Changing the Narrative | Fighting For Indigenous Peoples’ Day

With the upcoming three day weekend, the most common thought seems to be relief. We get an extra day to study for the upcoming midterms, another day to stay in and sleep, and a shortened workweek. Thanks to the memory of one man, we have a national holiday that celebrates the founding of a new world, and in turn, our country.

But, should we be celebrating this infamous day?

Should we celebrate a day rooted in exploitation, conquest, and cultural appropriation? Or a man more concerned with his own personal gain than with the different, native cultures he came across?

It’s hard to remember this part of a free day – the part no one wants to look at, or particularly remember. We want to sweep it under the rug, and live with it, rather that confront it.

But, things are changing. The country is changing, and the people with her. Just a few days ago, on October 6, 2014, Seattle’s City Council voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The council meeting on Monday was a scene of great celebration for the name change supporters as the chambers exploded in cheers, and the sounds of song and drums when the change was approved.

In a quote from Seattle Weekly, Nick Licata, a Seattle council member said, “I’m the third Italian American on the Seattle City Council in one-hundred years. We are all citizens in a democracy, we are all here to work with each other, and by making this Indigenous People’s Day, we are adding something, we are not taking something away. We can both recognize our strengths.”

Navajo Blankets at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle, WA

His comment came in response to the opposing group of the opposition: these are members of the Seattle Fedele-Lodge of the Order of the Sons of Italy in America, who felt that in the changing of Columbus Day, that one of their cultural holidays were being taken away.

Though said in response to the proposal’s opposers, Licata’s comment is also another great example of why it is time to usher in a new, and more fitting name for the national holiday. By having this day still exist, America is able to remember the history that led the country we know today, and also able to celebrate the people who originally lived here.

The idea to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been around since the late 1970’s, but no real action was taken to rename the holiday until the city of Berkeley, California, did so in 1992. A few other cities have followed since then, as well as a few colleges.

On Tufts’ campus, there are a group of students trying to make the renaming a reality. Genesis Garcia and Andrew Núñez spoke on the subject at Wednesday’s ALAS – Association for Latin American Students – meeting. The step is an important subject: “It’s the beginning of a conversation about what we currently understand American history to be and whose stories are silenced because of it,” said Garcia and Núñez Wednesday night. They mentioned the fact that Tufts sits on what was once Massachusetts tribe land, and by having a day that honors those people and cultures, the university will only further educate its students.

The resolution is currently waiting faculty approval, after passing through the Senate unanimously. The resolution fights for the day to still be free day, but for the name to be officially changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The day would also possibly feature special programming: a chance for Tufts students to learn more about indigenous peoples and the land that Tufts currently occupies.

Controversy will always exist around Columbus’s “discovery.” It opened an era of immense change and exploration for the Americas, where native peoples were exploited and many destroyed. Cultural appropriation was rampant, and many traditions and ways of life that once existed here were lost forever. Columbus personally enslaved thousands of indigenous people, and helped open a path to the creation of the transatlantic slave trade.

On the other hand (which is also the base of much of the opposition for the change), without Columbus, and the collective effort to colonize the new world, we wouldn’t be here today. The world might have turned out a lot differently – and we will never know if that parallel reality had a better outcome.

But, regardless of what might have been, changing the name of Columbus day is a small step in the right direction: to help pay homage to the native cultures of this land, and to help reinforce the idea that a time and people that exploited others should not be celebrated. By changing the name, there is an opportunity to change the narrative around Columbus Day: to educate people on the true history behind the day, and to remember, rather than celebrate, many forgotten cultures. There is a lot of progress that rest of the U.S. needs to make on the matter, but Seattle, and many other cities and colleges, set a good example, and give others a lot to consider on this upcoming three day weekend.

For those who would like to get more involved, there is a rally on Monday on the lower campus patio at noon. The event will have an open mic for those who wish to share, as well as a student speaker.

CECA, the Culture, Ethnicity, and Community Affairs group meets Mondays at 8pm; feel free to email andrew.nunez@tufts.edu for more information. 

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