A group of Native American students at Harvard University gathered on Monday and urged their colleagues to join their Indigenous People’s Day petition.
This took place shortly after Harvard modified their academic calendar to list two holidays taking place on October 9: “Columbus Day”, as a federal holiday, and “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”, as a city holiday.
Ashley Nicole Hamilton, Vice President of Native Americans at Harvard College (NAHC), demands a formal announcement by the university, and insists that Columbus Day be publicly denounced immediately.
“Columbus started the genocide of our people, so it’s contradictory to celebrate both the strength and determination of our people, as well as the man who caused them so much pain,” said Hamilton.
Maung T. Nyeu, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Education, questioned why Columbus Day was still celebrated in the United States.
“Mexico and Peru don’t celebrate Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro, nor does Cambodia celebrate Pol Pot, but we celebrate someone who has brutalized, enslaved and massacred many indigenous people. He was also the one to begin the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Are we really celebrating someone like that?” asked Nyeu, who is originally from Bangladesh.
“Indigenous people are the original people of this land. Their culture, history, diversity and humanity has continued to enrich this country. If our Harvard education is meant to work for justice, and exists so we can help people without a voice, then today is the day we join hands and take a stand.”
Moreover, members of NAHC have been sending signed petitions on the subject to President Drew Gilpin Faust for review for almost seven years now.
In June 2016, the city of Cambridge announced that Columbus Day would no longer be celebrated, and October 9 would now be a day of commemoration for Indigenous people. However, over one year later Harvard still continues to celebrate Columbus Day.
After much protest from the students, the deans of each school within Harvard sent emails to students on Oct. 5, stating that each school would be allowed to make a decision on Indigenous People’s Day. As a result, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Education have decided to formally change the name to Indigenous People’s day, but other schools have continued to celebrate Columbus Day.
Heather Rick, an undergraduate student who comes from a mixed indigenous background, said, “Cambridge has recognized this day, but Harvard hasn’t entirely caught up with it yet, so that’s really disappointing.”
James Walkingstick, Harvard freshman, said, “I’m ready to see a change. No more segregation, no more pushing back on languages just because they’re unfamiliar, and no more assimilation. I’m ready to see this pride in the native community that’s never been felt before.”
Currently, University of California, Berkeley, Syracuse University, Cornell University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, University of Utah and Brown University celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.