Monday, Oct. 11 was 2021’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday celebrating and honoring Native American people while commemorating their histories and cultures. Indigenous Peoples’ Day dates back to 1991; since then a growing number of cities, towns and states have begun to celebrate the contributions and lives of Native Americans, rather than Christopher Columbus, on Columbus Day. The date is not a coincidence — critics argue that celebrating Columbus Day glorifies the violent colonization of America, and in turn the genocide and enslavement of the Native Americans here long before Columbus “discovered” the land. Thus, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a direct protest of celebrating Columbus and colonization, and also the subsequent erasure of Native American culture in America.
For Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2021, Joe Biden became the first United States president to issue a proclamation marking Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In this proclamation he called “upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.” However, the University of Connecticut still held classes on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, making attending such ceremonies and activities designed to recognize the displacement and decimation of indigenous peoples difficult for students. Thus, UConn should fully observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day by not holding classes, thus giving students the opportunity to honor indigenous communities.
UConn’s Native American Cultural Programs (NACP) began celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Week with daily virtual events on Monday, Oct. 11, with more events to occur through Friday, Oct. 15. These events include panel discussions, webinars and a keynote address by Tristan Atone and Robert Lee. If Indigenous Peoples’ Day were a holiday observed on the UConn academic calendar, UConn students would have more time to attend these events and would therefore be better suited to actually participating in such a celebration of Native American cultures.
Having Indigenous Peoples’ Day off is not just an argument for a break in the fall semester — there is an intense need to respect the fact that the land we occupy was not ours to begin with, was not acquired through peaceful methods and that Native Americans today are still affected by American colonization. After all, according to UConn’s land acknowledgement statement, UConn itself rests on the “… territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples.”
While Indigenous People’s Day has already passed for 2021, the UConn administration should give students Indigenous Peoples’ Day off in the future, in order to observe the holiday. In the meantime, students should consider getting involved with the UConn NACP and also UConn’s Native American and Indigenous Students Association (NAISA). We exist today on Native land due to a long-standing history of violence. While observance of a national holiday cannot undo shameful history, it can help tell a truthful narrative of our country’s origins and lead the way towards reconciliation and autonomy for indigenous communities.