U students, faculty protest Columbus Day

by Jake Kapsner

The celebration of Columbus Day on Monday meant a day off for U.S. federal government employees, but for many indigenous people, paying tribute to Christopher Columbus is like celebrating genocide.
About 30 University students and faculty members rallied outside of Coffman Union on Monday afternoon “to raise awareness of what Columbus Day means to indigenous people,” said Lance Twitchell, a College of Liberal Arts senior and member of the Tlingit and Haida tribes of Alaska.
Twitchell and other members of the American Indian Student Cultural Center gathered informally after the event in Jones Hall, where the dialogue continued with members from the rally’s co-sponsor, La Raza Student Cultural Center.
Estimates say the Native American population before Columbus arrived was 70 million or more, a number that’s dwindled to 300,000, Twitchell said.
“It’d be like celebrating ‘Hitler Day,'” said Jennifer Molina, a member of La Raza. “People like to celebrate Columbus Day, but they don’t realize that tens of millions of people died,” she said.
The event’s call to action stirred requests from the groups that University and Minnesota state officials make a public apology to indigenous people and rename the day Indigenous People’s Day.
University officials said Columbus Day is not on the official calendar.
Phyllis Kahn, the state representative for the East Bank of the University and its surrounding neighborhoods, noted Columbus Day is not an official state holiday, but a federal one.
“It’s a non-holiday,” she said. “What’s the point of changing the name to be a non-holiday in another name?”
And while she said she understands the point students are making, she didn’t make an apology.
“I’d rather see more meaningful things than that, like seeing that descendants of indigenous people have the same access to higher education and economic development, or seeing that we’re careful not to disturb burial sites,” Kahn said.
Requesting an apology from University and state officials might seem radical, Molina said, noting the University’s land grant status.
“People need to be aware of what was sacrificed for this land — people were displaced, murdered,” she said.
Monday’s gathering aimed to empower indigenous people and raise campus awareness for the lack of historical accuracy in much secondary education as many University students become educators themselves, Molina said.
“It’s sad that government agencies are celebrating such a day,” said University student Kevin Shores. “They’re celebrating the continuation of the genocide of indigenous people.”