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Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the U

Indigenous Peoples’ Day, celebrated on the second Monday in October, represents a crucial moment to honor the rich histories, cultures, and contributions of Indigenous Americans and American Indian people in the United States. This day, which acknowledges the often-overlooked narratives, traumatic losses, and the profound impacts of colonization, holds a special significance in our collective history.

Brief history

To understand the history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it’s essential to delve into the origins of Columbus Day. The federal holiday in the United States was established to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas in 1492. Columbus had been informally celebrated across the country since the late 1700s. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially declared Columbus Day as a national holiday. However, for many Indigenous peoples, the celebration of Columbus Day is deeply controversial and traumatizing. Christopher Columbus’s arrival marked the forceful taking of land and initiated a period of widespread suffering, death and the profound loss of Indigenous ways of life.

The concept of Indigenous Peoples’ Day originated in 1977 during an international conference on discrimination sponsored by the United Nations. Since then, it has evolved into a day dedicated not only to honoring Native American peoples, their histories and their cultures but also as a vital reminder to rectify the ‘whitewashed’ version of American history that glorifies European colonizers like Christopher Columbus, who committed violence against Indigenous communities.

In 2021, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation formally recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a significant move aimed at honoring Native Americans for their resilience and their enduring contributions to American society throughout history. Though Columbus Day remains a federal holiday, 10 states and Washington, D.C., have officially recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Furthermore, over 100 cities have chosen to replace Columbus entirely in favor of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

On Oct. 3, 2023, Mayor Erin Mendenhall updated the proclamation to officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Salt Lake City. This meaningful recognition signifies the contributions of Indigenous communities to both the city’s and the state’s history, culture and development. It represents a crucial step towards acknowledging and celebrating the deep Indigenous roots embedded within the state.

University of Utah’s commitment 

The University of Utah recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day as part of its commitment to support Indigenous communities in their pursuit of justice, equity and reconciliation. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day aligns with the university’s commitment to promoting inclusivity and diversity, creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for individuals of all backgrounds and fostering a more inclusive and equitable campus.

“I view Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a moment of shared responsibility and an opportunity to start or continue work that aims to heal past traumas and address injustices against American Indians and Indigenous People, ” said Bryan Hubain, associate vice president for student development and inclusion.

Because our campus is situated on ancestral land, the university has maintained a strong and enduring relationship with the Ute Indian Tribe, as outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Since signing the MOU in 2020, the University of Utah has taken several significant steps to support the Ute Indian Tribe, including providing over $10,000 to facilitate the trademarking and licensing of the Ute Proud mark and Ute Indian Tribe seal, with complete ownership y provided to the Ute Indian Tribe.

As a part of the MOU, in spring 2023 the University of Utah created the Native Student Scholarship program. The program provides support for tuition and mandatory fees, and up to a maximum of 18 credit hours per semester. The Native Student Scholarship program is a significant step and display of our commitment through action.

Furthermore, the University of Utah actively cultivates strong, taking an active role in preserving their heritage, cultures, and languages. Established in 1991, the (AIRC) plays a vital role as a resource hub for Native American students. The center’s mission is to facilitate the social, academic, and cultural engagement of American Indian and Alaska Native students, staff, trainees, and faculty through cultural affirmation, academic and professional development, and post-graduation preparation for undergraduate students. Additionally, the AIRC serves all tribal nations as the cultural conduit to both tribal communities and the University of Utah by affirming tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

“The AIRC serves as a central hub providing a physical and cultural space where Native/Indigenous students can come together and actively participate in their culture, traditions, and celebrations,” said Samantha Eldridge, director of the American Indian Resource Center. “For non-Indigenous students, the center serves as an educational resource for students to learn about Indigenous perspectives and contributions. These experiences enrich the overall academic experience of all students by fostering a deeper understanding of Indigeneity and leads to a greater sense of belonging through mutual respect and appreciation.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not merely a day of reflection; it serves as a catalyst for change. Through partnerships, cultural preservation, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion, the university exemplifies its dedication to supporting Indigenous communities and promoting justice, equity, and reconciliation. As students, faculty, and staff, we collectively play a role in ensuring Indigenous voices are heard, respected, and celebrated, not just on this day, but every day.