Indigenous People’s Day

For further context, please see the bluestockings editors statement.

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

Edited by Paige Morris ‘16

Yá’át’ééh, shí éí Ronald Charles Scott, Jr. yinishyé. Naasht’ézhí Tábaahá nishłí, Tsénjíkiní báshíshchíín, Áshįįhí dashicheii, dóó Kiis’áanii dashinalí. Chʼínílį́déé 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 of, or I hope that all of you are aware of, on Tuesday, October 6, 2015 the Brown Daily 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 article she has stated that “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 has 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 due to “an internal error,” and an apology has been published on the Brown Daily Herald‘s website, but an apology for whom?

I will state that I do not want apologies, I want action. Regardless of this “internal error,” and the apologies from the editorial staff at the Brown Daily Herald, the Brown Daily Herald has contributed to the continuous erasure of Indigenous students on Brown University’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 University’s campus. This article has made a negative impact to those of Indigenous heritage and an apology will not fix that.

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

Brown University needs to be held accountable as well for being silent and complicit in these events. Brown University has consistently contributed to the erasure of Indigenous students on their campus. For years, the Native American Heritage Series has asked to host their Annual Spring Thaw Powwow on the main green of campus, but it has not allowed this because it will supposedly ruin the grass. In addition, Brown University has continued to ignore and avoid developing any formal relationships with either the Narragansett or 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 M. Dzhali Maier ’17 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 who 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 to not acknowledge the very 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 across the world 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”:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 to have secured the win for World War II. The Navajo code talkers did not get official recognition from the Pentagon until September 17, 1992.
  3. Much 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 (i.e. Sacagawea).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Twenty-six of the United 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 in Indigenous languages.
  7. Lacrosse, canoeing, relay races, tug-of-wars, ball games, and other sporting games came from traditional games from various Indigenous Nations.
  8. Indigenous peoples in the western hemisphere, unlike the early European settlers, had long understood the importance of bathing/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 acknowledgement 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 the kinship and clanship. Brown University prides itself on being a community, and I will admit that it is one of the reasons I decided to attend Brown University. When I arrived on A Day On College Hill, I found a community that I could invest myself into. A community that I know 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 our Brown community, the process of unity, and the recognition and celebration of resistance and resilience.

Dzhali Maier ’17 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 Brown University’s community apart, but we are not. The truth is that it is they who are tearing apart the Brown University community by reinforcing a history of violence, of disunity, and of oppression.

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