A national decree in 1934 declared a day in October as Columbus Day. Last year, President Biden issued a proclamation announcing the celebration of Indigenous Peoples to coincide with that day, this year being October 10. I doubt that celebrating Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day on the same day is intended as a slight to the Italian American community. Instead, recognizing our native heritage deepens our understanding of our historical contributions of all our country’s ancestors across the multiple centuries–celebrating and recognizing a much older claim to the land that forms our home. Along with that recognition, however, comes acknowledgement of centuries of historically documented mistreatment, dislocation, and gradual cultural eradication of Native American peoples.
A history of the treatment of Native Americans is painful but powerful. Therefore, on October 10 many will join our nation as well as a growing number of cities and states in repurposing—or perhaps broadening—the way in which we use this day to celebrate the people who were here long before the Europeans arrived. This is an especially fitting tribute from community colleges whose very mission is founded on the premise of an “open door,” welcoming any who choose to walk through it.
In this spirit, our college is rededicating itself to an expanded equity agenda—to commit—more than ever—to see the work we do and the way in which we do it—through the lens of the eyes of the people we serve, no matter individual cultural backgrounds. Indigenous Peoples Day is a symbol of hope, of healing and of having the strength to create a strong sense of community that includes and welcomes all of us. In the lyrical tradition of The Native American Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address, we greet the natural world under the canopy of blending our hearts and minds together as one, elevating us to a position of gratitude. The message is a beautiful reminder of those natural things for which we should be thankful…water, trees, sun, moon…as well as truth, justice, and righteousness as our minds strive to gather as one and we learn to live in harmony. This remains as noble a goal for modern Americans of the 21st century as it was for peoples of centuries past.