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Student Union Passes Resolution on ‘Indigenous People’s Day’

By Abigail Gardener

Section: News

April 1, 2016

The Student Union passed a proposal to change the name of the holiday known as “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People’s Day” on March 21. Sophie Warren ’18 brought the idea to the Student Union and worked with Senator-at-Large Lorenzo Finamore ’18 to draft the resolution, which he introduced to the Senate.

Although the resolution passed through the Student Union easily, in order for the change to officially take effect the faculty and administration would have to vote on the proposal, and the language on the official Academic Calendar would have to be changed, Warren said.

Brandeis’ proposal came on the heels of Tufts University’s motion to adopt the name change. Tufts’ Undergraduate Arts, Sciences & Engineering (AS&E) faculty voted for Indigenous People’s Day to be recognized in place of Columbus Day on all official Undergraduate AS&E calendars, according to a press release from Benya Kraus, Chair of the Student Outreach Committee on the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate.

According to the press release, Tufts has joined many other states, cities and universities, including Cornell University and Brown University, in changing the name of the holiday. The movement to make the change first began in 1977 at a United Nations conference in Geneva, Switzerland. No action was taken, however, until 14 years later in 1992 when the city council of Berkeley, California, declared October 12 a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.”

Since then, states, cities and universities across the country have taken up the movement to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. The movement revolves around the idea that Columbus Day celebrates colonialism and oppression of Native Americans, while Indigenous People’s Day is a way for us to learn about the history of Native Americans and respect and support their struggles.

“The intention of this choice lies in recognition of the legacy of Columbus’ imperialist violence, torture, enslavement and genocide, and the remaining systemic markers of this violence,” said Warren in an email. “The purpose of the day itself lies in celebration of Indigenous people’s culture and to commemorate the history of Indigenous peoples.”

The Tufts press release stated similar reasons. “Student leaders of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the Tufts movement emphasize that this name change is not merely a matter of political correctness, but rather, ‘an active decision to shift the institutional and academic consciousness of Tufts University to one that acknowledges the connections between the oppressed histories and present day oppression of Indigenous Peoples.’”

The change at Tufts took a year of student campaigning, the press release stated. A petition for the change received over 1,200 signatures, and 50 student organizations pledged their support. The change seems to be incredibly beneficial for all involved.

“Tufts student leaders are looking forward to see this calendar change be a catalyst for bringing greater attention and awareness to Indigenous history, culture and ongoing resistance,” said the press release. Furthermore, the press release noted, “Students are now developing Indigenous-centered programming to take place on campus during this holiday, as well as pursuing the creation of an Indigenous Studies minor at Tufts University.”

At Brandeis, the movement is just getting started. Warren believes it is a necessary change for the university to make considering the values of social justice we uphold. “In our Brandeis Academic Calendar, we currently designate ‘Columbus Day’ on the second Monday each October,” said Warren. “It is critical and in line with the core values of our institution that we remove this language and make a conscious choice to honor ‘Indigenous People’s Day’ on the same day, in its place.”

Warren is happy with how quickly it passed through the Union and is looking forward to receiving continued support. She said, “Work is ongoing, but support is needed. That this shift comes from the community and for the community, is essential. I hope to build awareness, understanding and support around this resolution.”

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