Indigenous Peoples’ Day began as an act to visibilize our indigenous presence on stolen land. As we celebrate the second annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Brown University, a white supremacist colonial institution, we assert and demand greater accountability and responsibility, beyond cursory recognition of the ongoing occupation of Wampanoag and Narragansett lands.
Native Americans at Brown have been clear since our first vocalization for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Fall 2015:
“This is not just a symbolic or political stance that we are taking. Our continuing fight for Native visibility on campus has consequences for us as students, Native communities and the greater campus community of students of color. We are living testaments to Native resistance, and we are requesting a celebration of ourselves and millions of others like us, rather than a University erasure of the genocide that we had to fight back to get here. This renaming of Fall Weekend is just one small step in longer walk towards institutionalizing real support for Native students. This protest will not be the end of this discussion. Our voices will continue to sound upon this campus.”
Indigenous Peoples’ Day (IPD) at Brown was a step on a pathway of anti-colonial activism. However, when it’s only a holiday on the calendar, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is minimized to an acknowledgement of our existence by our colonizer. IPD becomes the “long weekend” for students and staff to get away from campus. Its meaning becomes an afterthought. We should be cautious of the ways IPD may be co-opted and used as tool of suppression to these moves toward decolonial justice.
IPD at its core calls for careful understanding of positionality and active engagement with Native peoples as visitors on displaced Indigenous land. How does this day of celebration work toward Indigenous empowerment when more than often it is purposed to appease white guilt? When only a small number of the Brown community can name the Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples whose land we occupy, something is wrong. IPD cannot be a way for you to nod your head while still doing nothing to support your fellow/local Native-Indigenous peoples. Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not give land back and it is not inherently anti-colonial. This does not accomplish Native-Indigenous autonomy or repatriation of land.
Indeed, we have seen ‘progressive’ institutional changes, but does this change the settler institution? Have we seen a significant rise in admitting Native-Indigenous students, especially from tribes in the local area? Changes in university plans policies and practices function at the slow rate of the white/settler imaginary; this is the liberal progressiveness that perpetuates anti-indigeneity and endorses capitalism and white-supremacy. We need intervention now, not after the next controversial crisis at the expense of oppressed peoples. Liberal pragmatism has allowed us to withdraw our initial efforts and abandon larger accountability to each other and the land. Moreover, we must continue to be conscious of the structural partnerships of capitalism and colonialism, as they work to re-mystify and reinstitute superficial inclusion of indigenous voices.
This is not to say that IPD should not be celebrated at our educational institutions, nor to discount the labor and strength of achieving IPD’s “passing” or “observed” status. We believe that confronting and transforming social power begins with the small, day-to-day interactions into the sustainable, enduring destruction and dismantlement of systemic oppression. The roots of IPD from 1977 to today represents the strength and enduring hope of Indigenous peoples to unify, struggle, and ultimately be successful in working towards our liberation.
Indigenous peoples deserve more than a mere acknowledgment of the land we occupy, and more than one designated day on a colonial institution’s calendar.
To our fellow Native-Indigenous peoples: oppressors will never truly see us for who we are and what our existence represents. There is hope beyond the state and colonial institutions, and we find it in our battles beyond simple recognition and affirmation from colonial institutional powers. The end goal is not Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It is not cursory support for the next ‘NoDAPL’-type hashtag. It is measurable and answerable movement against empty “feel-good” agreements and “settler moves to innocence” operations. There is only one way to deconstruct violence that targets Black, Indigenous, and Brown peoples. Settler colonialism can only be dismantled through Decolonization and the abolition of white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy. Recognition is a pacifying gesture focused on mediating institutional reputation and instead normalizes colonialism. We don’t want reconciliation, we want liberation.
With that being said, it is monumentally important to make space for Indigenous folx to come together in community, as we exist in a violent colonial state at an institution rooted in structural violence. This Sunday, October 8th, 2017, we will celebrate being in community with Native and Indigenous students, staff, faculty and local tribal members. This time is for us, for our rest and self-care at an elite institution that does not do enough for us and other students of color. We cordially extend an invitation to other communities of color, accomplices, and friends to join us in celebration. But this is just one day out of our year. And the whitewashing of ongoing colonial legacies remains.
To Native and Indigenous students and faculty: we have work to do. To those who marched with us in 2015: we have work to do. To the administration: we will not stop fighting for decolonization and liberation. And to this nation: revolution is coming.
Sierra Edd ’18 and Kara Roanhorse ’18 are members of Native Americans at Brown (NAB) and organizers of IPD 2015.
Image from: Danielle Perelman Photography