The Land Upon Which We Stand
With special help from Joz Butler and Olivia McGrath
TW: Mention of Confederate flags and swastikas
To some, this day is just a day off from school. To others, it’s an acknowledgement of Indigenous Americans. But what does Indigenous Peoples’ Day really signify? And what can we take away from its message?
On the second Monday in October, several states across the country celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day -- an official commemoration of the ancestral peoples who occupy the Americas to this day. Often incorrectly dubbed as Indians or simply Natives -- originally labeled so by European colonial powers -- Indigenous American communities make up a broad superfamily consisting of hundreds of tribes, municipalities, linguistic groups, and other ethnicities that thrive across the Americas . In the Northeast USA, there were tribes such as those of Sequin, Nipmunk, Quinnipiac, Iroquois, Algonquin, and Lenape; in the Plains, there were the Arapaho, Hopi, Cheyenne, and Comanche. The Americas were home to a plethora of advanced civilizations, complete with unique languages, religions, and technologies, whose influences stretch far into colonial Western society. To these peoples, for instance the Inca Empire, who brought us suspension bridges far before James Finley's rehash, and the Arawaks of what is now Haiti, who brought us rubber before Christopher Columbus or Charles Goodyear could take credit for it, we owe a great deal of gratitude and acknowledgement.
Up until 1992, IPD was regarded as Columbus Day, named after the Italian colonizer who arrived at the Caribbean archipelago in 1492 CE. The problem with this is that the holiday centered around Columbus’ apparent discovery of the Americas glorifies him as a heroic explorer, rather than holding him accountable for his murderous and exploitative tendencies. In lieu of the fallacy of Columbus’ supposed grandeur, many countries have adopted the holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, instead commemorating the original inhabitants of the Americas. This day not only recognizes their suffering at the hands of European colonial powers -- but also commemorates their rich history and culture. As Western societies has begun to better recognize the BIPOC community, some groups have placed a heavy anchor on our nation’s progress -- condemning the acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples and their right to both existence and freedom.
Even today, some people reject any form of acknowledgement of Indigenous Americans or other people of color, telling people with dark skin to “go back where they came from” -- unaware that their ancestors, who came from outside territories themselves, stole and destroyed these peoples’ homelands.
I’m sure many of us have heard of the concept of Indigenous land acknowledgement -- but what does this mean? As explained by Sioux activist Jasilyn Charger, land acknowledgement is a form of reparation that goes far beyond just accepting that the land we occupy belongs to the marginalized Indigenous civilizations of pre-colonial America. It specifically includes welfare programs that care for Indigenous families relegated to impoverished regions such as reservations and low-income, redlined municipalities, as well as communal education on BIPOC and overall world history. To find out, we asked students what they learned about this concept from last week’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day webinar.
During the survey our newspaper conducted, our surveyees, 90.6% of whom were of European descent, understood reparations as “paying someone back” or “paying for what our ancestors did.” While those are fairly accurate statements, reparations aren’t about settling the score -- they’re about using our white privilege to support Indigenous groups and to even the playing field for all mankind -- little by little over the years. Approximately 90.9% of surveyees believed in land acknowledgement, and thus are assumed to recognize the legacy of the land they stand on. They described this as “learning about the history and culture of indigenous land and giving respect to that history and culture,” as well as “giving back the land to the people who it was taken from, either in the form of a conservation or another use of the land which the affected people feel right,” which are even more accurate!
Other surveyees thought that the webinar “only appealed to the SJW kind of student,” a common ideological dog-whistle found among far-right conservatives who stray away from facilitating productive discussions about personal privilege, BIPOC rights, equity, and/or equality. We encourage these people to research what an SJW actually is at https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/what-does-social-justice-warrior-sjw-mean.
We as the author and editors of this article hold the privilege handed down to us by our ancestors, who colonized and ravaged the Americas through rape, torture, murder, and enslavement of Indigenous people, who to this day have been relegated to reservations and territories sparsely scattered across North and South America. We find it prudent to acknowledge our privileges as white people in a country built by enslaved people of color, and we have much to learn about the BIPOC community, their history, and how we can best support and give voice to people of color. To better educate ourselves, we must not pester and harass our fellow students about the issues surrounding their identities and history; they don’t hold the responsibility of educating white folx. Rather, we must understand that it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about BIPOC history, records, and sources of information, rather than remaining within our bubble of white privilege and subsequent ignorance. To support the BIPOC community, as we have learned from our fellow human beings, we must take a stand alongside them and be willing to learn on our own. Only then can we hope to be seen as allies; only then can we hope to align our impact with our intent of support.
If our readers would like to learn more, they can explore informative Indigenous-led sources such as https://www.un.org/development/desa/Indigenouspeoples/, and/or https://en.unesco.org/Indigenous-peoples. It might provide different perspectives on these issues for you, and learning about Indigenous culture and history through BIPOC sources is an excellent way to inform yourself and support the groups directly.