Group creates petition for University to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

The second Monday of October could be known as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” instead of Columbus Day if a petition asking the University administration to make the change is successful. 

The petition, which was created on Columbus Day by the Native American and Indigenous Collective and can be found on their website, passed 500 signatures last week. The NAIC is an organization housed within the Multicultural Engagement Center and aims to provide services and host events for
indigenous peoples.

Jacob Barrios, Mexican American studies junior and co-director of Operations for the NAIC, said the petition was inspired by a movement across the nation that began in the northeast to shift away from the celebration of Columbus Day.

Barrios said he believes the notion of celebrating Columbus Day and the idea that he “discovered” the Americas, even though there were already people living there is a harmful, Westernized mentality.

“[Columbus] was the beginning of the exploitation of the land and resources of the Native people by Europeans,” Barrios said. “We think that instead of honoring that legacy through the celebration of Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day would celebrate the resilience, resistance and the beauty of Native culture, instead of the start of this tragic demise.”

Seattle and Minneapolis were the first two cities to officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day this year. Barrios, who is indigenous to Mexico, said he believes the University has not made an active pursuit to recruit Native American students.

“I don’t think UT as an institution is connecting with those communities in the way that they could be,” Barrios said. “We think that Indigenous Peoples’ Day would be the start to changing the culture of UT.”

According to the 2010 government census, Texas has the fourth largest population of individuals who identify as American Indian or Alaskan Native, but the past four University freshmen classes have been composed of less than 1 percent American Indian population.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University does not currently honor Columbus Day, but it would consider honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day if a resolution were passed through Student Government.

“We are always proud of UT students when they engage and drive debate on important issues, especially those that relate to equity and justice,” Susswein said. “If the proposal to use that day to honor indigenous peoples is approved by Student Government, University officials would review it closely.”

Max Patterson, history senior and president of University Democrats, said he believes the establishment of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an example of the community owning its history.

“Any telling of our history has to be a complete one or else we are putting ourselves back,” Patterson said. “If we don’t recognize the incredible sacrifice the Native Americans had over the past hundreds, thousands of years, we are doing a disservice and not paying a full credit to our history.”

Barrios said the community can help in ways other than signing the petition, such as being cognizant of the contributions of the indigenous peoples to society and educating those who are unfamiliar with the history.