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October 6, 2021 - Indigenous Peoples' Day

This week is a short one with Thursday and Friday included in October Break, two days without classes when students have the opportunity to pause, reflect, perhaps catch up on some school work or even return home for a quick visit. Classes will resume on Monday, October 11, 2021, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. As noted by Dennis W. Zotigh and Renee Gokey in their essay published in Smithsonian Magazine, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes that Native people are the first inhabitants of the Americas, including the lands that later became the United States of America. And it urges Americans to rethink history.” They explain,

The first documented observance of Columbus Day in the United States took place in New York City in 1792, on the 300th anniversary of Columbus’s landfall in the Western Hemisphere. The holiday originated as an annual celebration of Italian–American heritage in San Francisco in 1869. In 1934, at the request of the Knights of Columbus and New York City’s Italian community, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the first national observance of Columbus Day. President Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress made October 12 a national holiday three years later. In 1972 President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making the official date of the holiday the second Monday in October.

Generations of Native people, however, throughout the Western Hemisphere have protested Columbus Day. In the forefront of their minds is the fact that the colonial takeovers of the Americas, starting with Columbus, led to the deaths of millions of Native people and the forced assimilation of survivors.

In 1977 participants at the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas proposed that Indigenous Peoples’ Day replace Columbus Day.

Last week, students in POL 345-A Indigenous Politics delivered presentations that focused on both the history and politics of Columbus Day and the ongoing discussions around the statue located in front of the Walla Walla County Courthouse. You can access recordings of the presentations by following the links at the end of this article. During this October Break, we encourage you to spend some time thinking about your relationship to the land. How do you perceive your relationship to the original stewards of this land? How do you honor their legacy? Their sovereignty? 

As noted previously, heritage months and days of recognition like Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October or American Indian Heritage Month in November can provide opportunities for us to center those who have been marginalized or systematically oppressed, but these events can also provide the illusion of inclusion. We lift up our commitment to certain communities at different points in the year in a way that offers the veneer of cultural pluralism without any real structural change. Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, professor of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University, challenges us to move beyond acknowledgement to action. In her lecture, What Good is a Land Acknowledgement, Dr. Baldy speaks to the importance of focusing on indigenous philosophies to guide our decolonization work.

So as we move through October Break and come back together on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, let’s think about how we can move beyond recognition and into action. Taking the time to review the resources shared here is one action. Visit the You Are Here exhibition in the Sheehan Gallery. Attend the upcoming Unmaking Whitman event. Do something. But status quo is not an option.

POL 345-A Indigenous Politics student presentations:

Sep. 28 presentations on Columbus Day and Memorials

Sept. 30 presentations on Indigenous Peoples' Day

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