Students speak in support of a resolution for Indigenous Peoples' Day in March 2016. Over a year later, the University formally observed the day for the first time.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Students speak in support of a resolution for Indigenous Peoples' Day in March 2016. Over a year later, the University formally observed the day for the first time.

October 10, 2017

Cornell Officially Observes Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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In an empowering shift for indigenous students at Cornell, Monday was officially recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time by the University and the City of Ithaca.

Cornell approved academic calendar changes over the summer that renamed the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day, coinciding with Fall Break. In addition, Ithaca Common Council passed a resolution to do the same in September.

For many universities, including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia and UCLA, this year has been the first to recognize Indigenous People’s Day.

Emerson Shenandoah ’20 said that changing the name of the holiday was a great step because it reframed the historical narrative.

“It’s just kind of showing that … Columbus wasn’t really the greatest guy as well as that there were people here before so he didn’t just find an uninhabited land, he found someone else’s home,” he said.

In addition, Shenandoah said he hopes this change will help people better understand history through the perspective of Indigenous people.

“It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day now, so people are going to think of us, think of the people that were here in the Americas before Columbus ever came and understand that where they’re living actually was and still is in some [places] on native land.”

Laura Lagunez ’16 said it does not even make sense to celebrate Columbus Day since Christopher Columbus never even reached North America in his voyages.

“The significance of recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not only making an important sociocultural statement for native peoples, but it is also pulling individuals out of ignorance and making them think about the why they are celebrating what they’re celebrating, and whether or not it is culturally appropriate or even historically accurate,” she said.

Although it may seem like a straightforward change, getting the name of the day changed was a lengthy process.

While Shenandoah said he thought the process took about 10 to 15 years, Ana Bordallo ’18, one of the current co-chairs of the Native American Students at Cornell, said that the timeline “depends on who you ask.”

“I will tell you that it’s been decades,” she said. “In the past, it used to just be students coming out with poster boards and going and protesting Columbus Day, and they would have professors come and speak at Ho Plaza. That’s been going on for over two decades. There’s the idea that we build off of what happened before, and when we’re looking at Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that’s how I see it. You’re building off each generation of students.”

Despite this step in the right direction, there are many other challenges that the indigenous population at Cornell still faces.

“While it’s a nice gesture, and I appreciate that the University has chosen to officially recognize the holiday, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t more work left to do to improve the experiences of indigenous students, faculty and staff on campus,” Skye Hart ’18 said.

Bordallo said that the change is a continual process and the next steps will not occur instantaneously.

“When we’re talking about further dialogue and further issues that need to happen, it doesn’t just change overnight,” Bordallo said. “Change doesn’t happen overnight, and these relationships between indigenous peoples and I guess, their colonizers, is still evolving.”

For example, Bordallo explained how Cornell has yet to formally recognize that it is on Cayuga land.

“They’ve made steps,” she said. “For instance, inviting a Cayuga representative to President Pollack’s inauguration, but you know the school has yet to recognize that they are on Cayuga land and that they are continuously on the lands that were colonized and that this land originally and to this day still belongs to the Cayuga people, so it’s a continuous relationship. Without recognizing that relationship, further dialogues won’t be possible.”

Additionally, Shenandoah described the culture shock that indigenous students face when transitioning to college as a barrier to students completing their degrees.

“It’s a really big difference coming from a reservation and going to a university,” he said. “It makes you feel like you’re not doing as much as you could if you were at a reservation or somewhere your community is.”

However, Shenandoah emphasized the importance for indigenous students to get a college degree and use their education to make a difference.

“I believe that it’s very important to stay in school,” he said. “Many drop out because of the culture shock and I believe more people should stay in school because the reason we’re here in school, most of us, is so that we can go back and make our communities better.”

Bordallo said that some of the main priorities for NASAC this semester are to connect more with the local Cayuga community as well as to focus internally on identity building and cultural competency.

“We’re also working on this idea of in-powerment,” she said. “It’s a little bit different than empowerment in that the E-board isn’t giving these students power because they already have power within themselves, we’re just helping them to realize it.”

  • Ezra Tank

    Ah the university that wouldn’t exist unless Europeans came to the America’s now recognizes Indigenous People over Columbus.

    Emerson Shenandoah ’20 said that changing the name of the holiday was a great step because it reframed the historical narrative.

    “It’s just kind of showing that … Columbus wasn’t really the greatest guy as
    well as that there were people here before so he didn’t just find an
    uninhabited land, he found someone else’s home,” he said.

    In addition, Shenandoah said he hopes this change will help people better
    understand history through the perspective of Indigenous people.

    “It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day now, so people are going to think of us, think
    of the people that were here in the Americas before Columbus ever came
    and understand that where they’re living actually was and still is in
    some [places] on native land.”

    So basically Emerson Shenandoah thinks that history should be “reframed” to meet his utopian view of the world? Columbus wasn’t the greatest guy … I mean he only sailed tiny little wooden boats across the ocean. I’ve got news for you Emerson Shenandoah. Had Columbus never landed here Cornell would NOT exist. His last statement above paints all the problems with his thinking. So he basically wants to rename Columbus day so we only think of what happened before Columbus came and I guess ignore the 525 since?

    You simply cannot change history because you are “offended” by it. And since you brought it up you do realize that the indigenous people that lived here walked across the Bering land strait from Asia. They basically fought and killed each other just like Europeans did over land, resources, power, slaves, etc …. Don’t believe me read this from the Oxford Reference:

    Among most Indian groups east of Mississippi River on the eve of
    European contact—including the Iroquois and Cherokee—warfare served both
    social‐psychological and demographic functions. Indians waged war
    against one another to help members of their group cope with the grief
    experienced at the loss of a loved one or to avenge the death of a
    relative. Known as “mourning wars,” these conflicts were intended to
    acquire captives who would in turn either be ceremonially tortured to
    death or adopted into the group. Although men had responsibility for
    waging war and conducting the raids for captives, women often decided to
    initiate wars and typically chose between killing and adopting
    captives.

    Indians were just as savage as the Europeans that lived in the 14-17 century, but hey let’s celebrate their history as well! You see if you dig back far enough ALL humans from the first tribes on have a history of brutality. It’s the way ALL early people survived. To blindly lump all indigenous people into ONE tribe for your holiday is ridiculous as well and probably insulting to American Indian tribes. Today there is a tendency to view all Native Americans regardless of tribal background as all being part of the same people. But that really wasn’t the case. There were hundreds of different languages spoken by natives in what is now the United States, as well as some large differences in customs and religious practices between different tribes.

    A Mohawk, a Sioux, an Apache, and a Chinook would have been as different from each other as an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, and Dutchman, and with the same difficulties in communicating with each other.

    The Sioux and their Pawnee enemies spoke different languages from each other and had different customs and religious practices, so neither saw the other as being part of the same people.

    Christopher Columbus was a great explorer that challenged a lot of myths about the earth being flat. He also did some bad things but he didn’t do anything that wasn’t the norm of the time. The world we live in today is BECAUSE of him like it or not.

    There is no reason there cannot be two holidays to recognize BOTH parts of history but please don’t try to paint history as a one sided story.

  • Ezra Tank

    Why did the sun remove my comment that covered history?

    Lol at the school that would never exist if Columbus didn’t discover the Americas.

    • Michael

      bud, you realize discovering the other half of the planet was likely an inevitability?

      and to your point: Columbus was honestly such a horrible dude. his namesake day is nothing more than a celebration of conquest. of course American Indians have committed terrible acts. you win. every group in every part of the world has committed terrible acts at some point. just look at the big picture: old world countries decimated new world civilizations, and over a few centuries millions live&die under slavery…

      the pro-Columbus Day and/or anti-Indigenous Peoples’ Day argument is typically dead on arrival. folks are more aware; humanity is largely mainstream. sorry tommy tanks

      • Ezra Tank

        So you ignore the 525 years of history post Colombian because your professors tell you that you have this fake disease called white guild. Cornell would not exist had Europeans not set foot here. You yourself even admitted that American Indians did the same things as Europeans, so why recognize either group if that is your logic.

        If you read the actual diaries and journals of Columbus you would find a very different person than the one the media is painting. You do realize that Columbus’s name was smeared in history back in Europe because of his rivals. Read history.

        • Michael

          yikes, your world view is remarkably insular… and ive lived in the Bible Belt so i know idiocy in its purest form.

          -not white
          -not a current/recent student (retired alum)
          -as a former history major, I know that I’ve read more source material on colonialism than you likely ever will
          -those 525 yrs were pure genocide/ethnic cleansing and continental resource extraction without any material repatriations
          -to suggest that Cornell wouldnt exist had Europeans not decimated advanced civilizations in the Americas is laughable (and quite disturbing)
          -assuming you have ties to CNY, it’s rather odd that you’re unaware of the Haudenosaunee

          I’ve suddenly realized you are just not worth my time, or anyone’s for that matter. good luck out there Thomas the Tank. it must be tough, being the stubborn, ignorant minority, watching your perceptions slip into a small paragraph on an arbitrary page in a history textbook…

      • Michael, you claim to be well-educated on Indigenous history … what was the population, in your opinion, of North America in 1491, not counting what is now Mexico and the Caribbean?