Indigenous students organize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, plan for month-long events
Students are organizing events throughout Indigenous Peoples’ Month to celebrate as a community and raise awareness among the broader student body.
Close to midnight on Sunday, Oct. 9, Indigenous students at Dartmouth gathered on the Green to kick off Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which officially began on Oct. 10 and commemorates Indigenous history and sovereignty. The events for the month are largely organized by Native Americans at Dartmouth, a student organization founded to support and celebrate Native and Indigenous students.
In a yearly tradition known as the Midnight Drum Circle, Indigenous students sang together, shared prayers in their tribal languages and read poems, according to NAD co-president Ahnili Johnson-Jennings ’23, a member of the Quapaw, Choctaw, Sac and Fox and Miami tribes. In the afternoon, they came together on the Green again to hold a demonstration with the larger Dartmouth community, inviting non-Indigenous students to learn more about Indigenous cultures, she added.
“A big issue for Native people is the erasure of us and our identities. That’s just always a constant fight within our communities … to be seen and heard,” NAD co-president Aaní Perkins ’23, a member of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, said. “This year’s demonstration got a lot more people out, which was exciting. It was a really good time for Indigenous voices to be heard.”
For Johnson-Jennings, an event highlight was chalking sidewalks across campus on Monday night with messages highlighting Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a “yearly student favorite.” Some of these chalk messages drew attention to Dartmouth’s location on Indigenous land and called for land restitution — the returning of land and property to Indigenous groups who previously owned and lived on that land.
“[Chalking is] a way for us to increase visibility and write statements that are meaningful to us,” Johnson-Jennings said.
Dartmouth’s Indigenous students were also joined by prospective students through the College’s Indigenous Fly-In program, which brings Indigenous prospective students from across the United States to visit Dartmouth in person and typically overlaps with Indigneous Peoples’ Day, as it did this year.
Other events organized by NAD included a movie screening of “Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting” last Monday night that was open to campus. On Sunday, the Native American House hosted a poetry workshop with writer Kinsale Drake, a student at Yale University and recipient of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program Prize for Poetry.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day falls on Columbus Day as a symbol of rejecting the harm that the explorer brought to Native communities, including dispossession and genocide. According ot the Library of Congress, Columbus Day has been a national holiday since 1934, and while President Joe Biden issued the first-ever presidential proclamation to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2021, it is not officially recognized nationally or by the state of New Hampshire.
“We believe that the people who were caretakers of this land long before Columbus was even thought of deserve the holiday more,” Yazmyn Azure ’23, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (Anishinabe) tribe and NAD social chair, said.
At Dartmouth, the celebration has evolved into Indigenous Peoples’ Month, with events running throughout October. These events extend into November, which is nationally recognized as Native American Heritage Month. The College excused Indigenous students from classes on Indigenous Peoples’ Day so that they could fully partake in events, according to Azure.
According to Perkins, the NAD organizers behind Indigenous Peoples’ Day “really wanted to move away from anti-Columbus messaging.” Perkins said that in 2021, for example, some of the past posters that some Indigenous students created contained expletives directed at Columbus.
“Replacing Columbus Day is obviously important. But our point and goal this year as an executive board was to make it about celebrating our cultures and celebrating us and our languages, not so much focusing on Columbus,” Perkins said.
This year’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day also marked the first full-scale, in-person celebration since 2019, according to Johnson-Jennings.
“It was very meaningful to be in person and at full capacity, without masks — to be together and really building momentum [for the rest of events happening this month],” she said.
These celebrations come as the department of Native American and Indigenous studies — which officially became an academic department and changed its name from the Native American studies program last year — marks its 50th anniversary this year. 2022 also saw the repatriation of the papers of Samson Occom — a member of the Mohegan Tribe and a pivotal figure in the College’s founding — from the College to his Tribe in Connecticut. However, Perkins said that the celebrations were not specifically centered on these milestones.
“Those are definitely two significant events at Dartmouth and for the Mohegan People … It was at the back of our mind, but it wasn’t exactly our focus,” Perkins said. “But it is really important to talk about the origins of Dartmouth as an institution to ‘educate’ Native people, and the erasure of the Mohegan people. Those things will always be relevant.”
NAIS chair and professor N. Bruce Duthu agreed.
“I don’t think we’re attaching any particular significance to Indigenous Peoples’ Month in light of [those] milestones,” he wrote in an email statement. “Those milestones have been in the works for quite some time and we look forward to building on those successes for years to come.”
Indigenous students are now preparing for the Indigenous Fashion Show, which will take place at the Hood Museum of Art on Thursday, Oct. 20 from 8 to 9 p.m. This will be the fourth such show in Dartmouth’s history. Hōkūpa`a, a student-led organization for students from or connected to the Pacific Islands, co-chair Kalā Harman ’23 said that the show is a “good way for people to see fashion from different cultures,” most of which include a “modern twist.”
Azure, one of the key organizers of the show, said she encourages all students to attend in order to “gain a better understanding of what is important to Native people.”
“The fashion show is ultimately a showcase of Indigenous perspectives and feelings,” Azure said. “There are a lot of people here who will go on to become policymakers or be in positions of power, and it is important for them to understand what is important to Indigenous people.”
Perkins said that the support of non-Indigenous students “means a lot” to Indigenous communities on campus.
“In my opinion, silence about Native people is one of the worst things you can do,” she said. “We want people to show up to things like our demonstrations. The more people that see it and the more people are aware, the closer we are to addressing some of these issues.”