A Day On: Indigenous People’s Day

For the past couple of years, Andover has recognized Indigenous People’s Day on October 11th instead of Columbus Day, helping deconstruct traditional colonialist narratives that have hurt Native American people and community members. While we believe the school has taken some action toward justice for Indigenous people, like hosting Megan Red-Shirt Shaw at ASM on Indigenous People’s Day this year, there is still a lack of overall consciousness for Indigenous peoples’ history and issues, and the school has stalled in progress in several areas of action. For starters, land acknowledgements are nowhere to be found on the Andover website or school-affiliated social media pages, and there is no special programming for students on Indigenous People’s Day. While the road to bringing justice for Indigenous people at a predominantly white institution like Andover will be long, placing more significance on this day and taking the time to center the voices of Indigenous people serves as a good first step.

Each year on January 18th, Andover hosts a “day on” to reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the broader legacy of anti-Black racism in America. This “day on” entails a cancellation of classes, sports, and all other regular activities as well as a series of required lectures, workshops, and discussions so that students and faculty can fully devote themselves to learning. The MLK Day ON forces the entire campus to abruptly pause the stochastic chaos of our daily lives. This pause is refreshing and calming, yet also jarring– time seems to flow at a different speed during that day. The absence of normal routines allows students and faculty to arrive at the activities with a presence and focus that would be rare for any other day. 

Part of the purpose of a day on is recognizing and reflecting on the trauma that our existence on this campus represents against a group of people. The “day on ” activities for MLK day signify a recognition that anti-Black racism is irrevocably embedded into the history of Andover and the history of America. Andover’s lack of a similar recognition for the harm that we cause to Indigenous people is not a neutral stance: it is an oppressive one. Introducing an Indigeous People’s Day On would be a step away from this oppression and towards decolonization. It is paramount that we make space to sit with the discomfort of Andover’s role in settler colonialism and structural violence against Indigenous people.

Andover faces a unique challenge in our lack of Indigenous representation on campus. The vast majority of students and faculty are not indigenous and therefore will never fully understand the Indigenous experience, yet it is necessary that History classes portray indigenous joy and cultural contributions rather than just pain and suffering. History classes portraying indigenous history with the richness and nuance that it deserves, rather than as a moment in the inevitable path of “american progress”

We must ask ourselves what the purpose of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is. In our attempts to educate and equip students with the language and cultural competency to confront racism and identify systemic, institutionalized oppressions, are we truly celebrating and helping Indigenous peoples to heal? The implications of colonialism affect us all, yet non-Indigenous students hold a different relationship with this history, one that we cannot claim to fully understand. As long as these conversations regarding Indigenous history are framed in relation to colonialism, we convey one-dimensional stories of Indigenous pain, suffering, enslavement, and trauma. Andover must also be conscious of how repeatedly speaking of this history of genocide and generational trauma may be harmful for Indigenous students. Are the curriculums focusing heavily on the destruction caused by colonialism, the constant contextualization of Indigenous history through the Western gaze really for Indigenous students? Or are they performative, shallow acts that are meant to prioritize the education of non-Indigenous students over the actual healing and celebration of Indigenous students? 

These attempts to redeem the very influences of colonialism that birthed this country instead of amplifying Indigenous experiences and accomplishments are ways we abuse the privilege in our voices to focus on the wrong perspectives and the wrong narrative. Andover’s attempts to incorporate education about Indigenous history is meant to be an opportunity for Indigenous students to reclaim and celebrate the richness of their peoples’ history.