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Indigenous People’s Day: A celebration of shared tribal culture and historical suffering on Columbus Day

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Courtesy Alana Minkler | The Daily Wildcat

On Monday, Oct. 8, the University of Arizona officially recognized Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day.

The University of Arizona officially recognized Indigenous People’s Day on Monday, Oct. 8 instead of Columbus Day.

Indigenous student-run clubs and organizations came together and collaborated to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on the UA Mall. 

Meanwhile, performances and speeches were made. During the speeches, President Robbins publicly acknowledged his support for this day of awareness on Native American people and their history. 

Recognizing historical significance and suffering on this day

Indigenous People’s Day is celebrated on Columbus Day in order to recognize the suffering that took place under the colonization led by Christopher Columbus during the 15th century but to celebrate all of the shared history and culture that Native people have in North America. 

Students and faculty were able to talk about their culture and expressed a feeling of unity among tribes on this day. 

Tiffany Sorrell, a graduate assistant for the Native American Student Affairs (NASA) and Ph.D. student in Higher Education said that students worked together this year to push for UA to officially recognize Indigenous People’s Day. 

“This gives us a platform to talk about the real history, talk about the historical trauma of our people, and advocate,” Sorrell said.

She said the purpose of this holiday was to share the real narrative of Native people because history books don’t really talk about what Columbus did; they glorify him.

President of Indigicat Student Association Victoria Thomas, a senior in Literacy Learning & Leadership, said that for her, Indigenous People’s Day means being more connected to her heritage.

          RELATED: UA commemorates Native American Heritage Month

“I just think of Indigenous People’s Day as a day to remember where I come from and what my ancestors have been through,” Thomas said. “It also shows the future, being a part of the difference on campus and being a part of the change in educating people on Indigenous People’s Day and Indigenous people in general.”

Meaning of Indigenous People’s day to the Native community

Interim Program Director of NASA Rachelle Simpson said, “I think to me, that’s what is most representative of indigenous people’s day is letting people know that we’re here; we’re present day people; we’re educated; we’re activists; we sing and we can dance and we can laugh. We are all here as a community.” 

NASA was the sponsor of the Indigenous People’s Day event on the mall.

“It goes to a lot of acknowledgment and just raising awareness of not only our issues that we have across all of the nations, but also all of the strength, all of the beauty that each of our students who represent different tribal nations and citizenships bring to, in this case, the stage and their songs, and the laughter,” Simpson said.

Miss Native American University of Arizona 2017-2018, Amber Laughing, senior in molecular and cellular biology, said Indigenous People’s Day to her means celebrating shared culture and heritage with others.



Laughing shared that there are over 500 federally recognized tribes across the country and there are 22 in Arizona. She said Indigenous students all come from different backgrounds but a lot of them do have the same beliefs in terms of family, spirituality, and more. 

“To me, Indigenous People’s Day means being proud of who you are and where you came from, and sharing that with everyone,” said Laughing.

Speeches and Performances

President Robbins came to the event on the mall and publicly acknowledged his support of this day in front of all of the clubs and Native American faculty and students present. “It’s really important to have his support on this day and it shows us that we are being heard,” Sorrell said.

Other speakers and performers also helped to make the event fun including Ofelia Zepeda, Regents' Professor & Head of American Indian Studies, who shared opening blessings and poetry from the Tohono O'odham tribe. Benjamin Davis, Vice President of the Tohono O'odham Student Association, provided a land acknowledgment because the UA resides on Tohono O'odham ancestral lands. 

The Wildcat Nation Drum Group also performed for most of the event and the Tohono O'odham Basket Dancers performed twice. 

          RELATED: A Native American perspective: A call to adopt Indigenous Peoples Day over Columbus Day

Towards the end of the event, almost all participants, Native and non-Native, of the celebration held hands and performed a Round Dance to the beat of The Wildcat Nation Drum Group.

Thomas, who helped organize the flow of the event, said that rather than celebrate Columbus Day, she, “wanted it to be more of a time to learn about our cultures that we have on campus through song and dance. I’m excited for the future years.”


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