An Overdue Discussion

On October 6, 2014, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted in favor of changing Columbus Day, which commemorates Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World, to Indigenous People’s Day. The aim of this change was to steer the focus of this holiday away from celebrating Columbus to recognizing the indigenous people who inhabited the New World pre-contact and the ongoing struggles they face. Considering the egregious genocide of indigenous peoples that occurred in the 15th and 16th centuries, however, the campaign to rename Columbus Day only scratches the surface of the problematically racist and ignorant culture that pervades the United States. Merely rectifying the title of the holiday does not create an incentive for substantial change.

Of course, Indigenous People’s Day is a step in the right direction: it raises awareness about current issues indigenous persons face, such as the disproportionately high rate of rape incidents of indigenous women and prevalent poverty among these populations, as an editorial in The Phillipian noted last week. Shifting the focus towards indigenous peoples may lessen the negative implications attached to celebrating Columbus Day, but it still may not give these people the recognition they deserve. According to the Pew Research Center, Columbus Day is “one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays.” Ultimately, name change for this holiday will provoke little change on its own.

At Andover, we can do more. In order to truly celebrate indigenous people and indigenous culture, we should strive to learn and understand their history and our own. Much like how we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — not simply with a day off from class, but with a day of learning and discussion — our community could allocate a similar amount of time to examine the historical relationships between indigenous Americans and European explorers and discuss their ramifications in the present day. The History Department could devote the second Monday of October to reading primary sources by indigenous persons and exploring their culture before and after European contact.

Furthermore, Andover could invite people of indigenous descent to hold presentations or to be the keynote speaker at All-School Meeting. As discussions surrounding other ethnic and cultural groups progress on campus, rarely does our entire community get an opportunity to hear about the experiences of indigenous people. The indigenous minority is one too often overlooked or forgotten at Andover.

I believe an increased understanding of indigenous history will promote equality for indigenous people and reduce implicit discrimination. Rather than just a cursory name change on an often ignored holiday, Indigenous Peoples’ Day needs to become a opportunity to truly celebrate and learn about the people who first inhabited our country and who continue to face real, immense discrimination in our society today.

_Nancy Kim is a two-year Lower from Seoul, Korea._