Columns

Scott, Jr. ’17: Indigenous People’s Day

By
Guest Columnist
Friday, October 9, 2015

Disclaimer: This piece represents the writer’s views on Indigenous People’s Day. It is in no way representative of all Native Americans at Brown (NAB) or Indigenous Peoples across the world.

Yá’át’ééh, shí éí Ronald Charles Scott, Jr. yinishyé. Naasht’ézhí Tábaahá nishłí, Tsénjíkiní báshíshchíín, Áshįįhí dashicheii, dóó Kiis’áanii dashinalí. Ch’ínílįdéé naashá.

Hello, I am named Ronald Charles Scott, Jr. I am of the Zuni Water Edge Clan, born for the Honeycomb Rock People of the Cliff Dwellers People Clan, my maternal grandfathers are of the Salt People Clan, and my paternal grandfathers are of the Hopi Sun Clan. I am from Chinle, Arizona, which is in the middle of the Navajo Nation reservation. By this traditional introduction I am showing you who I am, who my relatives are, and who I represent. I am currently studying abroad for the fall semester at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

As many of you are aware, or I hope that all of you are aware, on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, The Herald published “Columbian Exchange Day,” an opinion piece by M. Dzhali Maier ’17 that argued for Native Americans to “celebrate the Columbian Exchange, not the man.” In her column, she stated, “It is the right of every person to interpret a holiday any way she chooses, but sitting down in the Sharpe Refectory and plotting an ‘Indigenous People’s Day’ demonstration over an egg and bacon breakfast is hypocrisy at its finest.” In addition, she argued that individuals today exist in a “modern world glimmering from stem to stern with Old World trimmings, atop foundations established by Columbus.” The article has been deleted after it was published due to “an internal error,” and an apology has been published on The Herald’s website, but an apology for whom?

I do not want apologies. I want action. Regardless of this “internal error” and the apologies from The Herald’s editorial staff, The Herald has contributed to the continuous erasure of Indigenous students on Brown’s campus and has promoted an ideological framework that Indigenous peoples have no legitimacy for their emotions, for their trauma and, it seems, for their existence on Brown’s campus. This article has made a negative impact on those of Indigenous heritage and an apology will not fix that.

The Herald needs to be held accountable, and it needs to be thinking about how to better reach out to voices who have been historically excluded from all forms of media. I am aware that The Herald does not “tolerate racism” and is “committed to fixing the shortcomings in (its) editorial process that allowed this” opinion piece to exist. Yet I ask again, how did this piece get published and posted through The Herald’s current editorial process? And what of the writer of the “Columbian Exchange Day”? From what I am aware of, The Herald intends to address the column with Maier, and I ask when and how will that happen?

The University needs to be held accountable as well for being silent and complicit in these events. The University has consistently contributed to the erasure of Indigenous students on campus. For years, the Native American Heritage Series has asked to host their Annual Spring Thaw Powwow on the Main Green, but it has not been allowed because it will supposedly ruin the grass. In addition, the University has continued to ignore and avoid developing any formal relationships with either the Narragansett or the Wampanoag nations upon whose land the institution was built. Instead they have forced the Indigenous students at Brown to develop these kinships on their own. 

Despite what Maier and her defenders believe, it is not my people nor the ancestors of the Indigenous nations of the ‘Americas’ who should feel grateful for Christopher Columbus ‘discovering’ the so-called ‘Americas’ and introducing invasive non-Indigenous species. Rather, those who largely benefit from settler colonialism should acknowledge the forced and sometimes willing sacrifice of our ancestors, their resistance from and their resilience to a foreign power that seeks to dominate them.

For far too long, the United States and many of its fellow Eurocentric countries have apologized for their colonial history and influence. Yet there is no systematic support in place, nor any structural action being taken to fully cater to the needs of the Indigenous population. These colonial powers do not recognize the structural violence of settler colonialism and that my legitimacy as an individual hinges on laws constructed by a government that has desecrated my ancestors’ burial grounds, distorted my history and continues not to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

Despite my community and other Indigenous communities being portrayed as struggling, they are also thriving in constructive and meaningful ways as we respond to the internalized trauma and violent history forced upon us. Indigenous nations across the world are developing forms of political, religious, cultural and economic interchanges and interrelationships. Indigenous nations exist on the periphery, yet they have contributed so much more to society than Christopher Columbus. And that is what needs to be acknowledged with Indigenous People’s Day. Much of white-centric American society and beyond has been largely influenced by traditional teachings and practices of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Below are a list of some of these contributions to ‘America’:

• The current system of federal government, in which certain powers are given to a central government and all other powers are reserved for the states, was largely borrowed by the system of government used by the Iroquois League of Nations. In addition, the bald eagle, the symbol of ‘America,’ was adopted from them.

• More than 8,000 members of Indigenous nations volunteered and served during World War I before they became recognized citizens of the United States in 1924. Later 24,000 members of Indigenous nations served in World War II. In addition, the Navajo language, an Indigenous language, was used as a code that was never broken and is credited with securing a win in World War II.

• The Navajo code talkers did not get official recognition from the Pentagon until Sept. 17, 1992.

• Many of the roads and railroads used in ‘America’ today were originally trails made by a network of Indigenous tribes across the land. Indigenous people selflessly guided early colonial settlers without asking for recognition or payment, like Sacagawea.

• That wonderful pumpkin spice flavor that everyone is obsessed with comes from the Indigenous nations of the ‘Americas.’ Pumpkin originated in the Western Hemisphere, as well as potatoes, tomatoes, corn and so forth.

• The fashion industry is obsessed with traditional geometric designs unique to the Indigenous nations. Just look at Urban Outfitters trying to sell authentic Navajo designs.

• Twenty-six states’ names (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming) originate from Indigenous languages.

• Lacrosse, canoeing, relay races, tug-of-wars, ball games and other sporting games came from traditional games from various Indigenous nations.

• Indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere, unlike the early European settlers, had long understood the importance of bathing and hygiene.

Indigenous People’s Day is about solidarity and the resilience of my people, my ancestors and all of those who have ever been oppressed. Indigenous People’s Day is the acknowledgment of our history, our heritage and our contribution to society. It is about breaking our chains of isolation and communication to attain an international community. In my culture, we have a traditional teaching, K’ézhnidzen, which means in English: acknowledging and respecting kinship and clanship. Brown prides itself on being a community, and I will admit that it is one of the reasons I decided to attend. When I arrived at A Day On College Hill, I found a community in which I could invest myself, a community that I knew would stand in solidarity with me when I am in need of it. Acknowledging and changing Fall Weekend/Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day is an occasion to strengthen the Brown community, the process of unity and the recognition and celebration of resistance and resilience.

Maier and others who are opposed to changing the name of Fall Weekend to Indigenous People’s Day may believe that I and those who stand in solidarity with Native Americans at Brown are tearing the Brown community apart, but we are not. The truth is that it is they who are tearing apart the Brown community by reinforcing a history of violence, of disunity and of oppression.

Ronald Charles Scott, Jr. ’17 can be reached at ronald_scott@brown.edu.

  • Anonymous

    There already is an International Indigenous Peoples Day

    http://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/

    Do you really need another one? at the expense of Columbus Day and the Columbian Exchange?

    • TMC ’17

      Your comment plays into the exact same narrative of Meier and others by claiming that Columbus left us with a legacy to celebrate. Columbus was directly responsible for the start of hundreds of years of genocide and enslavement for indigenous peoples across the Americas. The United States generally and Brown specifically have both benefited from this same tradition of the systematic exploitation of Native Americans, yet both do next to nothing to correct or even recognize this appalling legacy. It baffles me that you could read Ronald’s elegant and compelling piece and walk away claiming that he was asking too much in his simple ask.

    • Homan27

      Anonymous=Cowardice

      You’ve made your simpleton comment in a previous article. Ask your friends what the issue is about. You clearly do not understand the discussion. Try and think just a little deeper.

  • Peter Mumford

    This editorial would carry more legitimacy if the original editorial, which it rebuts, was permitted to remain online. You can’t have discourse while silencing opposing views.

  • bruno

    Ronald Charles Scott Jr.

    The sheep your people rely upon, and that make up such an important facet of your culture, is Spanish in origin.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navajo-Churro_sheep