Columbia students didn’t have classes canceled for Columbus Day, but they did get to choose how to mark the holiday—with free food or with a history lesson.
Columbia’s Native American Council hosted its annual Indigenous People’s Day event yesterday on Low Plaza, with its members handing out pamphlets outlining the history of indigenous peoples in America, while the Columbia University College Republicans held a barbecue across campus.
Native American Council members took the day as an opportunity to educate passersby about the Native American perspective on Columbus Day and to celebrate Native American heritage.
“I think it’s important to incorporate that other history. The day should serve as a memorial. Millions of indigenous people lost their lives,” Louisa Harstad, CC ’12 and NAC co-chair, said.
The council’s goal was also to encourage a change in the holiday’s name, from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. The NAC gathered over 300 signatures from Columbia affiliates to press the administration to change the name of the holiday on campus.
Abel Salgado, CC ’12 and co-chair of the council, said spreading awareness of Native American history also helps to create a supportive community for Native Americans at Columbia.
“Now we’re trying to work with that and create friendships, create a place where Natives can come and feel comfortable and celebrate their culture, and also address some of the issues that are facing our communities outside of Columbia,” Salgado said.
“People celebrate this holiday for different reasons. Some understand the indigenous side. Some celebrate Columbus. Some people are just happy to get the day off,” Harstad said.
That variety of perspectives was evident just across campus, where the College Republicans served ribs and soft drinks in Van Am Quad.
“It’s about celebrating how our country started and who was able to help us. And the weather is amazing,” Kate Christensen, BC ’14 and CUCR social director, said of the barbecue. “Columbus didn’t discover America, but he certainly played an integral role in what our country is today.”
The group stressed that they recognized Columbus’ wrongdoings, but said the holiday should be viewed as focused on the birth of America, not his individual actions.
“I suppose you realize there’s an inherent bias when we say the ‘discovery of the New World’ because they were there first, but, to an extent, America is a country that is very culturally similar to Europe,” William Prasifka, CC ’12 and CUCR president, said. “So I think it is significant ... that Europe would discover the New World.”
The debate over the national holiday continues to stir debate on both sides of the spectrum—and in the classroom. Audra Simpson, assistant professor of anthropology, said it was important to keep examining our country’s history.
“We should all think very hard every day about what we are being told to celebrate and why,” Simpson said.
Domenic deSocio, CC ’14 and the College Republicans’ director of communications, said that he understands the position of people who are “anti-Columbus” on campus, but said that Columbus’ actions should be remembered and celebrated.
“You wouldn’t be able to protest these things if Columbus didn’t come to being with,” deSocio said. “I’m a homosexual, so I understand about oppression, about minorities, and I understand that they have legitimate reason to protest, but at the same time, it’s sort of ridiculous.”
Members of both groups agreed that they just don’t want their causes ignored.
“We don’t want to ignore Columbus or the other side either, because that’s what they did to us,” Harstad said. “We just don’t think either side should be ignored.”