To Reclaim and Resist: Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Ah, October. ’Tis the season for pumpkin spice, flannels, and of course, state-sanctioned veneration of genocidal maniacs.

Yes, this past Monday marked Columbus Day on federal calendars. But Christopher Columbus, a colonial bastard with a noted flair for the sadistic, deserves no celebration.

So why do we celebrate him? And how can we properly confront this violent past while also celebrating the continued vibrancy of indigenous people in the United States?

The lack of observance of Columbus Day is not enough. Its existence on the calendar at all is still an endorsement of Columbus’ legacy of mass genocide and brutality.

Enter Indigenous Peoples’ Day, now recognized by four states and 55 additional cities, as well as Los Angeles County. Of the 5Cs, Pitzer College institutionally recognizes it, and the Associated Students of Pomona College proposed a last-minute resolution to recognize it as well. But as of the holiday, the resolution has a ‘TBD’ status listed.

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not about forgetting Columbus and his brutal legacy, it is about reframing the narrative. The sweet irony of reclaiming the day from Christopher Columbus is not lost on peoples who have had so much forcibly stolen from us.

I called up my mother, a certified indigenous badass, and asked her about the significance the holiday holds.

“[Indigenous Peoples’ Day] is all about telling stories and who gets to tell it,” she told me. “So much change occurred in my mother's lifetime, and I realize in my own lifetime as well. But we’re still here.”

The Columbus Day narrative is centered around a mislabeled 'discovery' of a people who were otherwise thriving. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is meant as a celebration of indigenous cultures – cultures that have experienced oppression and brutality, yet still endure. It is about celebrating a people who, in 1492, discovered a colonist with sick ambitions, lost at sea.

I consulted Rory Taylor PO ’17, self-identified lover of tacos and defender of freedom as well as member of the Ckíri and Choctaw Nations.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to me, is really about recognizing that, one, the history of the Americas is a lot older than a lot of our current nation-states,” Taylor told me via text message.

“Two, there is a history of oppression towards Indigenous peoples that needs to be talked about, frankly,” he wrote. “And three, just because our history is imperfect doesn’t mean that we can’t have a shared, brighter future.”

There isn’t much hope for federal recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, at least under the current administration. An email sent by “Team TRUMP” to supporters of his 2016 campaign whined about “leftists push[ing] harder to erase our nation’s history.” In typical dignified and understated fashion, he encouraged his supporters to celebrate “Christopher Columbus’s legendary voyage to America with an EXCLUSIVE Columbus Day Sale!” Code: 1492.

Here at the 5Cs, we can do better. We must do better.

“It makes sense to me in a lot of ways why Pomona can and should be at the forefront of institutions who recognize Indigenous peoples,” Taylor wrote.

“It makes sense geographically – we’re located in the Americas. It makes sense academically – we have departments of [international relations], politics, environmental analysis, and history, and potentially most importantly, it makes sense morally.”

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is the first step towards greater conversations and reconciliation with our country's violent past.

Growing up, my mother often told stories about how her grandfather, an Iñupiaq Alaskan reindeer herder, was featured in a 1927 photo series documenting what was then considered a ‘dying people.’ Ninety years later, she gets emotional recounting how her children are tribal members in the Native Village of Selawik – shareholders in an Alaska Native corporation that owns title to lands of our ancestors.

They are “ancestors who lived for thousands of years in a state that is now called Alaska in a country now called the United States,” she told me, pride in her voice. “Life has changed, but we’re still here.”

Indigenous peoples exist outside of racist Hollywood tropes and hurried historical footnotes. Rejecting the celebration of a man who raped women and children, enslaved thousands, and pillaged and burned entire villages is the first step. Celebrating a resilient people who have been on this land for millennia – and intend to be here for a millennia more – is the next.  

Amy Lowndes PO '21 is from Orlando, Florida. She likes Dolly Parton, iced coffee, and '90s crime shows. 

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