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Faculty approve Indigenous People’s Day at Brandeis

By Hannah Schuster

Section: News

October 10, 2016

Brandeis faculty voted Friday to change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People’s Day” on the university’s academic calendar. 

“Our students have led us to this day. It appears to be a calendar change, but it is so much more than that,” said Susan Curnan, chair of the Faculty Senate, referencing a Student Union resolution and campus-wide movement as she introduced the vote at the full Faculty Meeting on Friday. 

On Sept. 22, the University Advisory Council (UAC) was presented with a Student Union resolution on Indigenous People’s Day. The council, which decides on calendar changes, supported the proposal, according to members interviewed. However, they made a motion for the Faculty Senate to weigh in and then bring it to the full faculty. The Senate “unanimously supported the change,” according to Curnan; and Friday’s affirmative vote was followed by applause. 

Curnan shared a quote from Wilma Mankiller, the first woman chief of Cherokee nation who worked to improve education, health and housing in the Cherokee nation and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton. 

In the face of political, social and health-related challenges, she said, “‘The secret, the real secret of our success … is we never, never, never give up.” Curan continued, “She went on to say ‘I want to be remembered as the person who helped us restore faith in ourselves.’” 

For Brandeis’ first Indigenous People’s Day today, the Intercultural Center (ICC) is hosting a teach-in, co-sponsored by the Latin American and Latino Studies Department. Until 4 p.m., there will be sessions on history, current events and culture of indigenous peoples. Most are 30 minutes long, and the day is designed so students can come and go when they are free.

Sessions include Invisible in Their own Lands: Indigenous Peoples, Colonization, Nation-States & Development with Prof. Cristina Espinosa from Heller and Indigenous Messianic Movements in 16th Century Mesoamerica with Prof. Javier Urcid (LALS). Brandeis Climate Justice will discuss resistance to environmental issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline—which would carry oil through the Standing Rock reservation, under its main water supply and near sacred burial sites. 

There is still work necessary to have this change “reflect in our campus culture,” said Sophie Warren ’18, a leader of the coalition, citing the teach-in as part of this. The event “does critical work to change what was celebration of colonialism, genocide and white supremacy, to a … celebration of the diverse cultures, history, organizing and resistance of indigenous communities,” Warren wrote to The Brandeis Hoot. 

She thanked many for their contribution to this initiative, from student leaders and faculty to those who have led other movements for justice on campus—mentioning Ford Hall 2015, last month’s rally against police brutality and Brandeis Climate Justice’s work urging fossil fuel divestment—and indigenous resistance such as that seen at Standing Rock. 

The movement for Indigenous People’s Day began at Brandeis last year when Warren approached the Union and created the resolution with Lorenzo Finamore ’18, the senator-at-large. Ahead of the UAC vote, a student coalition created a Change.org petition that garnered over 600 signatures, posted flyers and led a social media effort. After the motion for a faculty vote, they encouraged students to email their professors and urge them to vote “yes.”

Materials (including the petition and resolution) state that this legacy conflicts with the school’s stated emphasis on social justice. It aims to recognize “that Columbus is not a figure to be celebrated, but one who enacted genocide on Indigenous People/Native Americans, the effects of which continue today,” and replace the holiday with a celebration of Indigenous People’s culture and history. 

This faculty meeting also featured a presentation on the university’s enrollment data. This included trends in the number of underrepresented students of color entering Brandeis. 

One student in this first-year class identifies as “American Indian/Alaskan Native” according to the presentation. This number was five in 2009 and has fluctuated around these low levels in between, according to the graph presented by Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment. 

Prof. Anita Hill called attention to these “concerning” numbers with Indigenous People’s Day approaching, and Prof. Bernadette Brooten proposed increasing recruitment efforts in states with larger Native American populations.

According to university statistics for fall 2015, 0.1 percent of undergraduates and 0.2 percent of graduate students identified as “American Indian/Alaskan Native” 

Read more of The Hoot’s coverage of the Indigenous People’s Day movement at Brandeis:

Vote on Indigenous People’s Day deferred to faculty

Student Union passes resolution on Indigenous People’s Day

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