This week, ESC talked to the Native Americans Council at Columbia about Indigenous Peoples Day and discussed how best to support them. ESC Bureau Chief Lori Luo reports.
Indigenous Peoples Day
The first discussion topic of the meeting was Indigenous Peoples Day, which was introduced to ESC by the Co-President Lael Tate and Treasurer Callie Singer of the Native Americans Council (NAC) through a presentation followed by a Q&A. This topic was originally introduced to ESC by First Generation and Low Income Issues Diana Carranza and Class of 2023 Class President Avi Gupta at a Policy meeting. Members of ESC, including Student Body President Alina Ying, then reached out to NAC to invite them to present at the meeting.
In their presentation, NAC introduced Indigenous Peoples Day as a day to represent indigenous peoples and to replace Columbus Day, especially in recognizing the harm done to Native Americans that he helped bring about. Currently, Columbia doesn’t recognize either Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. However, through their resolution, NAC seeks to have Columbia to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as well as to also advance representation and to advocate for greater awareness of indigenous issues.
Their resolution has a couple of different phases. Phase one seeks symbolic recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day from Columbia and for groups to send out letters for recognition. Phase two is to have the university recognize that it is built on Lenape land in different events and to establish the Ella Cara Deloria Symposium. Ella Cara Deloria studied at Columbia in the 30s and was central in advancing Native American studies. The Symposium would be a lecture series that would also encourage Columbia’s community to rally around native students and native issues. Phase three would seek broad support of indigenous faculty and advancement of the Native American studies department from Columbia.
This year, however, NAC is only seeking phase one and symbolic recognition. This October, they will send a proposal to the senate, but beforehand, they would like different groups to send out emails regarding Indigenous Peoples Day. This is because they face opposition from the senate in having the senate recognize Indigenous Peoples Day and would like to display to the senate the overwhelming student support for Indigenous Peoples Day. From ESC, NAC would like support for Phase One and an email sent out on Indigenous Peoples Day.
Following this presentation, ESC asked NAC questions regarding their issues with the senate as well as clarification questions regarding what support NAC would like and the email. Class of 2020 Vice President Jenny Martinez asked about why the University Senate did not support recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day. NAC responded that they had submitted their proposal through various subcommittees, but several faculty members strongly opposed it and revoked their votes. As such, the proposal to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day was not presented to the senate.
Sustainability Representative Ade Balogun asked about previous successes or initiatives that NAC had in the past. NAC informed him that in 2016, they were able to get a Lenape plaque installed outside of John Jay/Wallach/Hartley, which took a significant amount of time to do and was a long process. Before that, students wanted a native dorm, and as such, they now have a Manhattan House. Currently, they are working on establishing an American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) chapter at Columbia and have grown significantly in student size, up to 40 to 50 active members now from 20 active members in the past. They also have continued to host their annual Powwow, which has consistently grown in both support and funding every year. NAC is also in the process of helping to hire more native faculty.
ESC then started a discussion around whether or not to support NAC in their efforts as well as . Avi Gupta supported NAC, saying that it is a big concern among not only freshmen and other students. He also emphasized that Columbia is named after Christopher Columbus and that many other institutions recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. He believes that it is time that we join them and to recognize our own privilege. Ade Balogun agreed with Gupta in that it is a great resolution and given that has been good responses to student activism in the past, this resolution is an important and meaningful way that ESC can help move the conversation forward. Class of 2021 Class Representative Ethan Thayumanavan also agreed with them in the importance of recognizing Native American students in the community and the necessity to take the first step in spreading awareness.
Class of 2020 Class Representative Youngjae Ryu also asked NAC if there are any other issues that indigenous students face due to administration that need to be recognized. NAC responded in saying that one example was related to Indigenous Peoples Day. Usually, NAC would have tables and posters at the sundial to raise awareness, however, this year, administration is not allowing them to do so. More generally, many Native American students suffer from homesickness, and Columbia specifically does not offer enough help and support for specific native issues. CC and LitHum are also problems for native students as the classes prioritize western literature, including works and authors that are specifically offensive to indigenous students.
Vice President of Policy Estevan Mesa thought that it would be a good opportunity for ESC to help provide and to accent the voice of students, especially in the SEAS community. He also wanted to address what ESC would focus on within their email, specifically regarding the scope. To build on this, Alina Ying had a question for NAC regarding what they wanted a letter of support to contain. NAC responded that essentially they’d like this student council to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. The Senate would like to see that they have overwhelming support from students and that it is an issue among the general student body, and thus, showing that campus representatives support Indigenous Peoples Day indicates that the Senate should as well. Gupta also proposed that considering the time constraints, ESC should focus on phase one in either a specific ESC or joint ESC and NAC statement. Thayumanavan brought up that one step ESC could take beyond just sending an email is updating the SEAS calendar to show Indigenous Peoples Day.
ESC then focused on the logistical issues regarding how the statement would be drafted, voted on and then disseminated. Mesa brought up that the resolution for a statement would need to be proposed next week since there isn’t one drafted yet. University Senator Joe Hier proposed that ESC vote virtually on it instead. He also apologized to NAC as he is also frustrated with the lack of support for Indigenous Peoples Day from the Senate. Hier also urged everyone in ESC to vote so that they can say there is unanimous ESC support for Indigenous Peoples Day. After some more debate regarding whether it would be possible to create a proposal during the meeting, Mesa called for unanimous consent that ESC would vote via email, with no objections.
Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at UC Berkeley via Wikimedia