In midnight event, students honor indigenous people

by Timothy Connor | 10/13/14 6:43pm

“This is Abenaki land,” read a sidewalk message scrawled in chalk. “There are 566 federally recognized tribes in the U.S.,” read another.

As government offices around the country closed Monday for Columbus Day, a group of Dartmouth students honored a different holiday — Indigenous People’s Day.

To celebrate, more than 75 students gathered on the Green at midnight, forming a circle and singing powwow songs as student drum group the Occom Pond Singers played.

The event dates back 20 years, Native Americans at Dartmouth president Monica Stretten ’15 said.

Before heading to the Green, students gathered at the Native American House, said Preston Wells ’15, a member of the Occom Pond Singers.

“We smudged the drum and smudged everyone, we headed to the Green, and then we formed a circle around the drum and we started singing. They’re Southern-style songs, powwow songs,” he said.

Several students who participated in the event indicated their dissatisfaction with Columbus Day.

Kohar Avakian ’17, a NAD member, said she does not think Columbus deserves to be recognized in such a way.

“I’m not sure why it’s a holiday, because Columbus didn’t discover America and he led to the genocide of millions of people, brought over disease, raped women and he ruined beautiful cultures,” she said. “The fact that we are still here is amazing, so that’s why we have to celebrate indigenous people, but I just don’t think Columbus Day should even be a thing. In my calendar it’s not there.”

Wells said the government should abolish the holiday and replace it with one dedicated to North American native peoples. He said the importance of Indigenous People’s Day at the College extends beyond its Native American community.

“Dartmouth was founded for the education of Native Americans,” Wells said. “There’s an indigenous history that dates back further than the time that Dartmouth came to be, and so for us to be here we need to recognize that, and recognize that there were those who lived here before us and that for centuries they lived their way. It’s important to Dartmouth because if we can recognize that, then we can come to terms with the present by honoring the past.”

Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister, founded the College in 1769 to educate and train Native Americans in the region as missionaries. His interest in founding the school stemmed from his experience teaching Samson Occom, a Mohegan student who went on to become a Christian preacher and after whom Occom Pond is named. Since 1970, Dartmouth has enrolled more Native American students than all other Ivy League institutions combined.

Sixteen states, including Alaska, Oregon and South Dakota do not recognize Columbus Day.

South Dakota celebrates Native American Day instead, and in Hawaii, residents recognize Discoverers’ Day for its Polynesian discoverers.

“Often people celebrate Columbus and all the things that go along with that, but they don’t recognize the people who have sacrificed so much for the founding of this country, and indigenous peoples are often the ones who are forgotten,” Stretten said.

Despite his opposition to Columbus Day, Wells said celebrating Indigenous People’s Day is not entirely an expression of dissent.

“In a way it’s also not a protest, it’s a way for us to come out and honor where we come from and who we come from and honor the people that lived here before us,” he said.