Columbus Day becomes Indigenous People’s Day throughout country as UO celebrates indigenous solidarity

On Oct. 13, cities across the country opted not to celebrate the federal holiday of Columbus Day, replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day or Native Americans’ Day.

This year Seattle made the change along with Minneapolis and Portland Public Schools. The change was met with some opposition: according to the Seattle Times, various Italian-Americans who see Columbus Day as a celebration of Italian history were offended.

Meanwhile, the Native American Student Union at the University of Oregon hosted Indigenous Solidarity Day in the EMU Amphitheater from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

A series of speakers, including UO professors as well as local community members, discussed the problems surrounding Columbus Day, the effects of colonization and indigenous cultures.

Student groups, such as the NASU and Pacific Asian Community Alliance, set up tables with information as well as snacks.

The crowd slowly grew as passing students stopped and sat in the amphitheater to listen.

Gordon Bettles, Director of Native American Initiatives as well as Steward for the Many Nations Longhouse on campus, spoke first, detailing the history of colonization as well as his personal experience as a Native American.

He recounted the Klamath tribes’ fight for restoration after being terminated in 1954, and how they regained federal recognition in 1986.

“There’s a lot of things to live for, but there’s a lot of things to live through,” Bettles explained. “I’ve lived through my share.”

Bettles explained how the Klamath suffered through “cultivation” following colonization: they were put on a reservation, their children attended boarding school and many of their customs such as bartering were replaced by those of the colonists.

“There was money, ownership, assimilation,” Bettles said. “Rewarding people who adapted to the new way, the white way.”

Jason Younker, UO tribal liaison, called for an end to the “antiquated holiday.”

“Remember this day for what it is,” Younker said. “We discovered a lost Columbus. We don’t celebrate those who began genocide. We celebrate indigenous resilience.”

Esther Stutzman, a Kalapuya elder,was one of the other speakers. After her daughter and grandson performed a song, Stutzman discussed the implications of Columbus Day and emphasized the need for acknowledging its implications.

“Not to make people ashamed but to correct history,” Stutzman clarified. “Let’s tell history the way it really was.”

Stutzman also noted the meaning behind celebrating Columbus with a holiday, as many speakers did, by addressing the mass murder of indigenous people during colonization.

“Do we celebrate Hitler’s birthday?” Stutzman asked the audience. She was met with sporadic applause. “Columbus killed more native people than Hitler’s regime. If we’re gonna celebrate terrorism let’s do it good.”

Stutzman acknowledges that Columbus Day should be a day to elude from the past and find a brighter future.

“This is not a day that we mourn,” Stutzman added. “This is a day when all native people can come together and ask how we can make things better from this day on.”

Follow Francesca Fontana on Twitter @francescamarief


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Francesca Fontana

Francesca Fontana

Francesca is the associate news editor for community news.
She worked as The Register-Guard's 2015 Snowden Intern, and studies journalism and economics.