by David Rico
No longer able to defend Christopher Columbus’s moral character, students at Yale and our peer institutions have challenged the idea of Indigenous Peoples’ Day by pointing to the positive aspects of the Columbian Exchange: corn for beef, squash for wheat, etc. As if any technological advancement or new crop were worth the loss of almost two entire continents and millions of lives.
But why must this focus be so historical?
Even today Native students at Yale are giving to this University. Take these past few days for example. We have collectively been working hard to make sure that over this long weekend students from all walks of life, all creeds and backgrounds will for a moment, see the world through a different pair of eyes. We are pouring our hearts, souls, and precious Sunday homework time into making sure that this university, and this city, can know the privilege of experiencing an Indigenous point of view.
Some will look at us as if we are threatening. That is natural. We are asking for a change and change always comes with a dash of pain. But through all of that, we are also working to show you how joyous and beautiful contemporary Native culture can be. Not all universities will show you that.
When someone talks about Native people, American history, or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, now you can recall our faces, our food, our laughter and our ideas. In these lie answers to the world’s greatest challenges: sustainable agriculture, public health, gender equality, or alternative medicine. We are still sharing with you, offering the new tools you need to mend a broken world.
You are already fed, what will sustain you more than new thoughts? You are Yalies, intellectuals, mental prizefighters. Here is your new pair of gloves.
We do this as an act of love and pride in ourselves. We do this as an act of faith in you. It is genuine hunger to see this world become better for our children and yours. Thank you Yale and her community for the opportunity to come live and study at one of the most outstanding institutions of human knowledge in the history of mankind.
Here, in this mindset of gratitude, I hope that you can also appreciate that a group of students on campus feel so passionate about celebrating our experience with you. Happy Indigenous People’s Day.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2015, hosted by the Association of Native Americans at Yale, featured a two-day program of demonstrations on the New Haven Green and Cross Campus, a keynote speech by Hawaiian scholar J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, and community dinners with the Yale and New Haven Latino communities.
With partners Unidad Latina en Accion and MEChA de Yale, ANAAY organized the largest and most inclusive IPD yet, with hundreds in attendance from Yale and New Haven, from Native communities north and south of the border. We shared food, from Montana dry meat soup to Mexican tamales; we shared music, from Blue Feather’s Powwow jams to a Mayan nursery rhyme; we shared spirits, using sage and copal.
Last year, with a similar lineup, ANAAY was able to secure a proclamation of support from the City of New Haven for IPD, but we continue to organize and unify the Native community at Yale and in New Haven to abolish Columbus Day and take pride year round in our identities. The event was co-sponsored by the Native American Cultural Center, La Casa, the UOC, the Intercultural Affairs Committee, and Davenport College.
photos by Arianna Neal