Indigenous Peoples' Week celebrates Native community

by Jennie Rhodes | 10/16/18 3:05am

On Oct. 8, the Native American Program at Dartmouth kicked off a week-long celebration of the Indigenous community on campus, beginning with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a nation-wide holiday that initially began in 1992 as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day.

“It is a day to recognize our political right to speak and support our cause,” Ty Fierce Metteba ’20 said. “Dartmouth has a long history with Natives. It’s good we get to encourage one another that we are still here.”

Metteba said he believes Dartmouth’s week-long celebration of its Native community members provides visibility to Indigenous communities on campus.

The week began with the lighting of a bonfire, which burned for the duration of the week, according to Selena Neptune-Bear ’20.

On the eve of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the Native community chalked the sidewalk and then proceeded to the Green at midnight, according to Neptune-Bear. She added that for the duration of the night, members of the Native community bonded with cider and donuts. In previous years, events such as film screenings, meals and workshops were held in celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Week.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Rachel Hobart, a graduate student, and Metteba gave speeches on the Collis Patio.

Metteba said he began his speech by reciting the quote, “If you don’t have to mind or consider today, that shows the level of privilege you’re coming from.”

Metteba said that his speech focused on encouraging the Native community.

“It is a miracle to think that there are so many Natives alive today,” he said. “It is a beautiful thing. Every Native [who] makes it into a white-dominated space is a victory against colonialism.”

A 15-minute silent protest of Columbus Day followed Hobart and Metteba’s two speeches.

“[The day] raises awareness that Columbus doesn’t actually symbolize a great American hero,” Metteba said. “We use his holiday to raise awareness of what the day represents — genocide and colonization.”

This celebration of indigenous culture also coincides with the College’s Indigenous Fly-In Program for prospective students. Prospective students get the opportunity visit the College, become familiar with the Native community on campus and partake in events as if they were enrolled Dartmouth students, according to Joshua Olin ’21.

“They get to experience the multiple events that take place during a regular week, like baking and bonding at the [Native American House] to Indigenous People’s Day, our biggest event,” Olin said.

Neptune-Bear said she believes the most important part of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is the community coming together to feel connected to the Native culture and feel less homesick.

“Coming from a reservation, it’s a culture shock to come to a white-dominated space [in] a white-washed institution,” she said. “We come together as [a] community and are proud of our culture.”

Last year, the event changed its name from Native American Heritage Week to Indigenous Peoples’ Week to include other Indigenous communities’ voices, including the Native Hawaiians, according to Neptune-Bear.

“Columbus Day contributes to erasure. Protests can make our presence known on campus,” she said. “[They are] an attempt to combat the [erasure] and let the campus know we are still here. We care and are proud to be here.”

Metteba said that Dartmouth’s campus is built on the lands of the Abenaki, a Native American tribe originally from northeastern North America. The College was originally intended to educate the Native American population of New Hampshire. Since its founding, nearly 700 Native students have attended the College, representing over 200 tribes — more than at all other members of the Ivy League combined.

“The Native American Program here is bigger than anywhere else,” Olin said. “It’s a real establishment. Most other schools don’t have that platform for Natives. I know a lot of Native students choose to come here because of the vibrant, lively community.”

However, Metteba said he believes the College still needs more of a balance between the Native community and the rest of campus.

“Given that the charter [of the College] was to assimilate the Natives into the College, we need to redefine what that means,” he said. “There must be a balance of our culture with white colonization.”

Metteba added that Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps inform the campus that the Native community has a strong support system and preserves the identity of the community on campus.

“Our existence is resistance,” he said.