University News

Native students demand University support

Demonstration attendees urge University to rename Fall Weekend ‘Indigenous People’s Day’

By
Metro Editor
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Members of Native Americans at Brown circulated a petition requesting that Fall Weekend be renamed “Indigenous People’s Day,” emphasizing that the weekend should celebrate Native people’s culture and history.

Updated October 14, 2015 at 11:49 p.m.

Over 300 students and Indigenous people from across the country gathered Monday on the Main Green to call upon the University to change the name of Fall Weekend to “Indigenous People’s Day.”

The demonstration, organized by members of the student group Native Americans at Brown, consisted of traditional songs and dances, speeches by citizens of local tribes and a march around campus, which paused in front of the home of President Christina Paxson P’19.

Throughout the event, protesters were invited to sign NAB’s petition, which formally requests that the Faculty Executive Committee change the name of Fall Weekend to “Indigenous People’s Day.” The petition notes that while the committee voted to change the name from Columbus Day to Fall Weekend in 2009, this move is the “bare minimum that Brown University can do.” The petition also calls for the weekend to be an active celebration of the resilience and resistance of Native people at Brown and at large.

Paxson reached out to NAB members to discuss changing the name of Fall Weekend, and the group plans on scheduling a meeting soon, Floripa Olguin ’16, an event organizer who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Isleta and the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, told The Herald.

The petition stresses that though the administration is putting together a Diversity Action Plan, “antagonistic structural and social forces” still persist on campus, including problematic student views and The Herald’s publication of two racist opinions columns last week. The second column, “Columbian Exchange Day,” argued that Native Americans should be thankful for Christopher Columbus because of the goods and livestock he brought to America through trade, despite the resulting massacres and erasure of peoples and histories.

After Native students, faculty, alums and other Indigenous people introduced themselves at the demonstration, several attendees sang the Flag Song. NAB members then articulated the purpose behind the petition and the event.

“Native students are expected to be educators as well as students,” Olguin said. “Changing (the name) from Fall Weekend to ‘Indigenous People’s Day’ is the first, but one of many steps, towards actually creating an inclusive environment within the University,” she added.

“I think we have a greater chance of having the administration change the name because of the (column), just because that shows how relevant the issue is,” Sierra Edd ’18, another event organizer and a citizen of the Navajo Nation, told The Herald.

After NAB members spoke, protesters formed a circle around the Main Green and participated in a Round Dance, holding hands and stepping from side to side.

Event organizers stressed the importance of viewing the demonstration as a call for not only a name change, but also greater support and visibility for Native community members on campus.

NAB is probably “the only resource specifically for Native students on this campus,” Olguin told The Herald. “So when you place that responsibility on Native students themselves, it causes a lot of stress and hardship on top of being a student at Brown.”

The University could better support Native students by creating a Native Studies department, hiring more Native faculty and administrators and starting a program for Native languages, Phoebe Young ’17, an event organizer who is Ojibwe, told The Herald.

Institutionalizing recruitment of Native students — particularly those from the Wampanoag and Narragansett nations — should be a priority, given that the University currently sits on land that was previously occupied by those nations, Olguin told The Herald. Some peer institutions undertake more formal recruitment of students from tribal nations whose land their campuses are built upon, she said, citing Harvard and its relationship with the Wampanoag nation as an example.

“One of the things that comes with being at such an elite institution that’s been around for so long is that there’s not been any sort of collective, University-level thought about what it means to be on Native land — what it means to have the presence of Native peoples in a local sense so completely erased from Brown’s history,” Young said. 

Students should “really interrogate what it means to be a part of an institution that has colonial ties, and part of a legacy that has been destructive to a group of people that (is) on this campus,” Olguin said.

The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life could also better support the religious practices of Native students, such as by helping them procure funds to return home for religious and cultural ceremonies, Olguin added.

After the Round Dance at the demonstration concluded, several Indigenous people who traveled to Providence for the event addressed the crowd.

“Terrorism was brought here — it was not indigenous to here,” said Tall Oak from the Wampanoag and Pequot nations.

Tall Oak linked the genocide of Indigenous peoples to the violence caused by the mass distribution of guns in the United States. The right to bear arms directly relates to the fact that “terrorizing Indians into submission became as American as apple pie,” he said, receiving snaps from the audience.

“Until America asks these so long overdue questions and confronts its past, the now routine news of gun violence will continue,” he said.

Tall Oak also spoke about the Great Swamp Monument along Route 2 in South Kingstown, which memorializes a colonial massacre of Narrangansett Indians. “You show me a nation’s monuments, and I’ll show you what they worship. A nation that honors hypocrites will always have hypocrisy. A nation that honors racists will always have racism. A nation that honors the greedy will have greed,” he said. 

“I’m tired, and there’s something wrong with the fact that I can stand before you and say that I’m tired,” said Jonathan Perry of the Aquinnah community of the Wampanoag nation.

Approximately 6,000 Wampanoag people live in the United States, and over 3 million Mayflower descendants live across the world, Perry said. “There is something seriously wrong with those statistics. So, where are all our people?” he asked.

The celebration of Columbus Day is “a disgrace. It’s a disrespect, and it’s a national wrong. And it ends here. Happy Indigenous People’s Day,” Perry said to rousing applause.

Hartman Deetz, a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe who came to campus from California, emphasized that Columbus is not celebrated because he discovered the Americas, noting that Leif Erickson came to America in 1100 and the Chinese mapped out the coast in the 1420s. The reason Columbus is celebrated is because “he started a machine of empire. He claimed land in the name of Spain. He claimed souls and lives, and he started the transatlantic slave trade,” Deetz said. 

Deetz also prompted the protesters to reflect on the value Indigenous people bring to the world, rather than the value that Columbus brought to the Americas. “Indigenous People’s Day is not just about not celebrating a murderer and a tyrant. It’s also about celebrating so much of the things that we have had to offer, the positive contributions, the things that we have contributed to this world to make it a better place,” Deetz said to loud applause.

At the conclusion of the speeches, protesters grabbed signs and marched around campus while chanting slogans such as “exchange Columbus” and “change the name.” The protesters paused their march in front of Paxson’s residence.

“We wanted to make a note in coming here, that even though … the administration is not here, we will not be silent,” Olguin said.

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  • Al Eng

    I am 5% native American. Can I get something ?

    • in Bey-o speramus

      …. Are you ok? Do you need something? A hug? Are you sad? What is wrong with you? Why are you speaking into the void? It is very unsettling? Have you talked to anyone about these feelings of inadequacy? Are you ok?

      • Al Eng

        Do you not recognize sarcasm?

        • in Bey-o speramus

          You being sarcastic does nothing to mitigate the genuine worry I feel for someone who thinks that’s an appropriate or meaningful thing to say.

          • Al Eng

            Are you always this uptight? Chill.

          • Humored bystander

            Lol dude you got out-sarcasmed. Get on their level.

  • Gen

    Wait, sorry, what exactly is offensive about the term “Fall Weekend”?

    • SonkWaban

      It is the “bare minimum” and tacitly an insult. It is lip service to more than 500 years of injustice. Would it be okay if MLK Day was just called Winter Festival Day?

      • JW

        > It is the “bare minimum” and tacitly an insult.

        As far as I can tell (by looking back into the BDH archives [1]), the 2009 name change was a negotiated compromise between activist students (who preferred the day off be eliminated altogether) and faculty (who preferred that a day off be retained). I think to accuse past activists of being accomplices in insulting Native Americans is a little extreme. The goal then wasn’t to push for a new holiday, but to recognize that Columbus is not a historical figure that deserves celebration.

        Comparing the 2008 and 2015 protests, something valuable has been lost. In 2008, ceasing celebration of Columbus was part of a larger effort:

        > The speak-out, called “Say No to Columbus Day at Brown!” was part of a larger movement within the Native American community at Brown to end the observance of the holiday, push for an Indigenous Week in October to honor Native American heritage and to continue the dialogue about Native American history.

        What happened to this clear vision of a path forward for better recognition of Native Americans at Brown?

        [1] http://www.browndailyherald.com/2008/10/08/students-faculty-protest-u-celebration-of-columbus/

        • SonkWaban

          from what I can see they were not only pushing for a new holiday, but a whole week to honor Native American heritage. Not sure who was accusing past activists of being complicit in the insult but if you are reading that into anything that occurred then or now you are missing the overall point. suffice it to say none the NAB students who organized this protest last weekend were part of the 2009 compromise. but nice work avoiding my question.

          • JW

            I’m not trying to avoid anything you say, and I’m happy to engage with any and every point you make. I’m not the person you posed that question to, so I didn’t answer your question. I can do that.

            To clarify, you said that “Fall Weekend” is a tacit insult; I noted that it was actually an amicable compromise between activists and faculty in early 2009. If it is insulting, then those activists, by virtue of helping engineer that renaming, were accomplices in that insult.

            Personally, I do not think it is insulting, nor is this situation equivalent with the hypothetical you pose. Going from A to B isn’t equivalent to going from B to A, and “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” isn’t comparable to “MLK Day”; one honors an ethnicity, the other honors a person.

            If it turned out that MLK was not a man worth celebrating, then I hope they would rename it. Arguing against it would be every bit as ridiculous as those back in ’09 who argued that abandoning “Columbus Day” was a blasphemy against Italians.

            …that is, unless you do believe that celebrating a man is the same as celebrating his race/ethnicity. In that case, asking Brown to rename last Monday isn’t a “bare minimum”, it’s a big ask. You’re not just asking Brown to rename a day, you’re asking Brown to codify the conflation of the celebration of people with the celebration of their race/ethnicity. I can see why they would be hesitant to make that leap.

          • SonkWaban

            Really? An amicable compromise? I would then have to ask who gave them the right to compromise the integrity of future students at Brown or Native people anywhere for that matter? Bottom line is that a day celebrating Columbus is unacceptable on any level and Native people have put up with the indignity of his hero status for hundreds of years. Is it really too much to ask to flip that coin? No Indian head nickel pun intended.

          • JW

            > I would then have to ask who gave them the right to compromise the integrity of future students at Brown or Native people anywhere for that matter?

            Fair enough, but you go on to say,

            > Bottom line is that a day celebrating Columbus is unacceptable on any level…

            I think the ’08-’09 protesters would agree with that. That’s precisely what they petitioned for and achieved. This particular coin HAS been flipped (by Brown, at least).

          • SonkWaban

            Nope. Coin was not flipped it was “compromised.” A fully flipped coin would exchange Columbus Day for Indigenous People’s Day. That is what this new generation of NAB students is asking for. Personally I hope they get it. It has my pleasure to debate these points with you. You are a stimulating intellectual. I hope no arrogance is assumed on my part. I am simply passionate and proud.

  • Greek Alum

    I fully support the holiday renaming, but I don’t agree with the following:

    “The Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life could also better support the religious practices of Native students, such as by helping them procure funds to return home for religious and cultural ceremonies, Olguin added.”

    Is this a service that is already offered by the OCRL to others and withheld from Native students? If so, then I support its expansion. If not, then I do not support its creation because it surely opens up a pandora’s box of deciding which customs/cultures get access to this funding. Will we also provide money for Muslims to make the Hajj? For
    jews to attend a cousin’s bar/bat-mitzvah? Would this funding only be open to students who are not in the dominant religion of the USA (christianity) or would it have been accessible to Catholic students to see the pope during his recent US trip?

    “The right to bear arms directly relates to the fact that “terrorizing Indians into submission became as American as apple pie,” he said, receiving snaps from the audience.”

    This feels like a stretch to me, especially since the slaughter of Natives by Europeans had been going on for centuries prior to the Constitution’s first draft even being a thought in someone’s mind.

    “Columbus is not celebrated because he discovered the Americas, noting that Leif Erickson came to America in 1100 and the Chinese mapped out the coast in the 1420s. The reason Columbus is celebrated is because “he started a machine of empire. He claimed land in the name of Spain. He claimed souls and lives, and he started the transatlantic slave trade,” Deetz said.”

    I think it’s more because of the western-european centric views instilled by colonialism, no? Not that it’s right, but there’s no way the USA was going to create a national holiday to honor a chinese or nordic man over a western european one, regardless of what role the 3 of them had in the discovery of the Americas, right? Maybe this concept is 6 of one, half a dozen of the others, but I feel like Columbus was going to get the nod over those other 2 no matter how much or how little he did relative to the others.

  • Gat Heder

    My religious and ethnic practice is to have hours of private moments with my goat once a week. Will Chris Paxson please get Brown university to pay for my travel expenses to go home to do these rites with my goat? Also, will Chris Paxson please tell Brown professors to reschedule classes and assignment due dates as necessary so that I can do this goat thing? Thanks very much.

    • TMC ’17

      I’m not sure where this whole narrative that NAB is demanding something that other groups don’t get comes from. We can and do make institutionalized accommodations for people of other faiths – if you want a good example, look at how professors are expected to extend deadlines and shopping period for the Jewish High Holidays. I agree that I would like to see if their is parity for other faiths re: University resources being made available to attend religious ceremonies, but I’m suspicious of the attempts being made to dismiss these claims outright.

    • in Bey-o speramus

      People are so wild. Why is it that whenever any group wants something conservatives IMMEDIATELY jump to intercourse with goats as the inevitable result. Like, it is a wildly common rhetorical trick that does nothing but confirm that y’all need help lol