Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 29, 2020

Indigenous students bash Columbus Day

By PETER JI | October 13, 2016


BJOERTVEDT / cc-by-sa 3.0 Many indigenous people in the U.S. feel that Columbus Day celebrates the destruction of their culture.

Over the last few years, a movement has gained momentum across the United States to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Proponents argue  that Columbus Day celebrates the genocide of Native Americans by European colonization and enslavement, beginning with Columbus’ arrival on Hispaniola in  1492.

At Hopkins, students    gathered  on the Beach in support of the movement on Monday.

Senior Cera Hassinan organized the event, where she displayed a poster for people to write words of support and encouragement. She also shared family souvenirs from her mother’s Sioux tribe.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day tries to reimagine Columbus Day. We don’t want to celebrate a man who brought so much trouble to native people,” Hassinan said. “He brought Native Americans to colonize them, enslaved them, used their women, raped them and brought them off of their lands. All of the problems that Columbus brought with him... caused them to lose their identity. There are so many problems caused by Europeans coming over and we shouldn’t celebrate that.”

Hassinan is just one member of a greater movement that is spreading throughout the country.

Cities including Seattle and San Francisco have renamed the national holiday Indigenous People’s Day.

The states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and Vermont do not recognize Columbus Day at all. The number of parades celebrating Columbus Day  has also declined.

Junior Joshua Bertalotto, a member of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, spoke about how the University’s current diversity initiative does not extend to Native American groups.

“Hopkins’ percentage of identified indigenous people usually ranges from about 0.1-0.2 percent, which, in comparison to the national population of 2 percent, is an institutional problem that we felt needed to be addressed,” Bertalotto wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Bertalotto believes that Native Americans have much to offer in terms of cultural and historical perspective.

“I think it is important that Hopkins shows an effort to combat these statistics. But also, we as a people are more than just statistics,” Bertalotto said. “We offer a deep cultural and historical perspective of our people and our tribal communities, and love to share that with one another and with anyone interested in learning about it.”

Students at the Indigenous Peoples’ Day event wrote on Hassinan’s poster that the European discovery of the Americas was not laudable due to the treatment of the natives throughout the history of colonization. Some also mentioned that it is unclear whether Columbus even knew that he discovered a new continent. The University does not officially celebrate Columbus Day.

In February this year, Brown University faculty officially voted to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day to promote inclusivity. The student group, Native Americans at Brown, conducted its first celebration this year.

Similarly, Hassinan is leading an effort to create an indigenous peoples’ group at Hopkins within the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA). Although OMA currently has over 30 cultural groups, of which 16 are active, there is at this time no separate group designated for indigenous peoples and Native American students.

Bertalotto further explained that a number of students have already expressed and interest and support  for the group and how OMA has responded to their efforts.

“It looks like we have about 15 to 20 people interested in joining and our plan is to work to identify and include more students as we progress,” Bertalotto wrote. “I recently met with the new Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Jamie Riley, and I have been met with great enthusiasm from OMA and its staff. They realize the problem that Hopkins’ has previously had with identifying and including Native students and are very eager to work with Native students to rectify the problem.”

Director of OMA, Joseph Colón responded positively to the efforts on campus to form a new group specifically for Native American students.

“The Office of Multicultural Affairs is supporting a group of students who reached out to us on creating opportunities for students who identify as Native American/American Indian/First Nations/Indigenous Peoples and allies,” Colon wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Our office is excited for such an opportunity to be more inclusive within our community and allow underrepresented students to have a voice and engage in meaningful dialogue through programming efforts and meetings. OMA is dedicated to supporting our students as they embark on important work surrounding Native American/American Indian/First Nations/Indigenous Peoples.”

Colon expressed his hope that the new group will provide a helpful support network for a commonly underrepresented minority group on campus.

“Our population of Native American/American Indian/First Nations/Indigenous Peoples has always been small, but our hope is that students, faculty and staff support this underrepresented community,” Colon wrote. “We hope this interest provides our students the platform to discuss pertinent issues, celebrate their ancestry and activate conversations on the current state of affairs for Native American/American Indian/First Nations/Indigenous Peoples.”

Many Hopkins students voiced their united support for embracing the trend towards Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Junior Juliet Villegas, a member of the OMA Executive Team, conveyed her firm support for the new movement.

“We should just celebrate Indigenous People’s Day because Columbus did not discover the Americas. He colonized it. We celebrate the genocide of original people who lived here,” Villegas said. “We constantly think of immigrants as one of the problems that we are facing, but unless you were one of those people originally here, we are all immigrants.”

Freshman Riya Rana, on the other hand, had not known of the holiday until recently when she overheard her friends referring to it. Afterwards, she started referring to the holiday differently herself.

“If you just called it Indigenous Peoples’ Day, you celebrate the past and celebrate it in a different way,” Rana said.

Junior Juliana Veracka believes that Columbus should no longer be taught as a historical hero.

“I think it’s fantastic that there’s an option to celebrate indigenous people instead of Columbus,” she said. “We were taught that Columbus was a hero, but we were also taught that Native Americans were pushed out of their homes. It’s disgusting that we teach children to celebrate that instead of indigenous people.”

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