Students at the Claremont Colleges recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day Oct. 8 with the fourth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Midnight Celebration at Scripps College’s Malott Commons and a visit to festivities at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
The celebration in LA marked the removal of a Columbus statue in Los Angeles Square Park and the city’s first official Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration since voting last year to replace Columbus Day.
The 5C Indigenous Peer Mentoring Program helped organize the midnight gathering by sending out an email encouraging Indigenous students at the 5Cs to celebrate the beginning of the day by smudging — a traditional Plains Indian practice meant to act as a healing and cleansing ceremony — and offering a sense of familiarity and community.
Marisa Branco PZ ’22 of the Isleta Pueblo Tribe attended both the 5C gathering and the LA event.
“[T]hey wanted the first sights, sounds, and smells that Indigenous students experience on Indigenous Peoples’ Day to be that of other Indigenous people, and that’s why it’s at midnight, to kind of enter the day prioritizing and giving space to those voices and experiences,” Branco said.
Branco estimated that about 10-15 Indigenous students attended the fourth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Midnight Celebration and said she was grateful for the opportunity to honor her heritage with other Indigenous students. She commended the 5Cs for hosting such a gathering and signaling to Indigenous students that they intended to do more than simply rename the day and brush aside the history of what it means.
“I feel like a lot of the times, especially within institutions that make the change from calling it Columbus Day, there isn’t actually a lot done to unpack what was being said to Indigenous students with having a day honoring Columbus beforehand,” Branco said. “A lot of the times, it just almost feels like another way to erase the experience, but I think having the gatherings and having an actual event honoring it as Indigenous Peoples’ Day does feel a little bit more like a reclamation of what that day is.”
Branco acknowledges that for a lot of people the day can be really painful. “It is still kind of a colonizer’s day, with that history of the name,” she said.
But, Branco tries to use it as a day to honor her roots by reconnecting with people that help her cultivate and honor that identity.
Angela Mooney D’Arcy, a Pitzer College professor of the Acjachemen Nation, said that Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a time for her to reflect on “the delicate balance between pushing back against our erasure, and having our presence co-opted and tokenized.”
“It’s important to tie Indigenous Peoples’ Day to local government accountability and to the native nations on whose lands they’re built [on],” D’Arcy said.
In addition to teaching “Protecting the Sacred” at the Robert Redford Conservancy, D’Arcy is also the executive director of Sacred Place Institute. The ultimate goal of her organization and of her class is to cause a mass paradigm shift where Indigenous peoples and cultures are protected and where society’s dominant worldview shifts from one “based on extraction and domination” to one “based on relationships, reciprocity and respect.”
D’Arcy also emphasized that Indigenous people need to be put at the forefront when discussing environmental conservation.
“The planet will be fine, the planet will go on with or without us, but if we want to save our [human] species then it really is time for the settler-colonist to step back and for Indigenous peoples to step forward and to be the spiritual and ideological leaders for sustainability,” D’Arcy said.
Nobu Ollin PZ ’20 of the Mexica tribe is in D’Arcy’s “Protecting the Sacred” class. He talked about the importance of utilizing the academic privilege and the access to resources we have at the Claremont Colleges to create what he calls “regenerative blueprints” in order to give back to people and the planet.
“Our professor, Angela Mooney D’Arcy, brings a wealth of experience on the frontlines of protecting and nourishing the land through her work at Sacred Place Institute,” Ollin said. “The question is, will we use that educational privilege to work on concrete blueprints for food sovereignty, water sovereignty, and community resurgence?”