Indigenous People’s Day and Inclusion of Native Students on Campus

Written by Zascha Fox

Most Colorado College students probably passed by the Indigenous People’s lunch on the Worner Quad this past Tuesday, though many may still not understand its purpose or the plight of the Native American Student’s Union (NASU) here on campus.

  Around the country, Native Americans are protesting the celebration of Columbus Day and are instead proposing the recognition of Indigenous People’s Day (IPD). Sophomore Aubrey Skeeter, a co-chair of NASU, described IPD as “a day to respect the people of this area before colonization, because so much colonization, genocide, and assimilation have been inflicted upon indigenous people.” Skeeter, who is half Native American, has been a part of NASU since fall of her firstyear, and feels it is the group on campus she “most identifies with.” 

The Indigenous People’s lunch was a collaborative event put on by NASU and Spoon University. According to junior Madeleine Engel, the idea for the event came up when brainstorming ideas for free lunch events for the fall semester. “There was a unanimous agreement [about this particular event] simply because we believe that Columbus Day has celebrated a dark part of Pan-American history to an embarrassing degree.”

Engel is currently the marketing director of Spoon University, and has been involved since last spring. The CC chapter of Spoon “makes an effort to pair up with various established clubs in order to provide support for their events.” This is just the first of a variety of food-centered functions in conjunction with a social justice organization on campus. Engel stated that “while we’ll likely work with NASU again in the future, we also hope to collaborate with any other affinity groups or clubs on campus.” 

The lunch was the first collaboration between Spoon and NASU, although Engel “expects to team up again sometime in the future.”  Spoon was especially reliant on NASU for advice and instruction on the selection and preparation of the food. “NASU essentially advised us in the process of planning the event, telling us what sort of food to make, and showing us how to make the fry bread.” 

As can often happen with most food-centered events, many students showed up for the food without acknowledging or recognizing what it was that they were eating for. During the lunch, there was also a NASU march going on inside Worner, promoting the proposed name change from Columbus Day to IPD.

Many Native Americans feel that changing the name of the day would shed some light on the suffering that indigenous people have endured, rather than celebrate it. Engel also recognized this, saying, “while the voyage of 1492 was certainly monumental in our country’s history, it is ignorant to blindly celebrate an event that led to the extinction of entire cultures.” 

NASU, although a small group, has made a huge impact on life at CC for some of its members. Skeeter attested that “it has helped me to become more comfortable with openly talking about my personal identities.”

The overarching goal of the group is “to facilitate a safe space for indigenous students and their allies.” Engel also had an opinion on whether or not students were made aware of IPD through the lunch. She believes that “the reality of food-centered events is that people will show up just for a free meal regardless of the cause. However, I also think that is what makes food events effective: they bring together people who may not normally take interest in an issue.

A number of people at the event had questions about Indigenous People’s Day or didn’t even realize that cities across the country were abolishing Columbus Day, so at the very least we helped to inform a few students.” 

The issue extends beyond Columbus Day, though. Despite feeling at home within NASU, Skeeter has had problems with her experience of the treatment of Native students on campus. “During my first semester at CC, I was so anxious about how I may be treated that I did not often mention my heritage,” Skeeter stated. Although, for the most part, CC is an inclusive campus, some of the events of last year had minority students questioning their place at the school.

IMG_9859The rise of anonymous social media platforms made people able to terrorize students of color while still remaining unidentified. “After the spring semester YikYak attacks on native students, I considered leaving, but decided that with the lack of native students at CC, my one voice leaving would make an impact, and I decided to stay.” Although she’s pleased with the group itself, it seems like more widespread recognition on campus would be appreciated. 

Skeeter has said that while she is “happy with where NASU is and how we interact with other groups and our events we host for CC and the Colorado Springs community,” she has felt like the events “are not very well attended, nor do many people at CC realize we are here—or care that we are.”

Although the steps seem small, events like the Indigenous People’s Lunch are helping to raise awareness of native issues on campus.

Skeeter and other students of color believe that there is disconnect between the inclusive and accepting atmosphere that CC preaches and the atmosphere that they often experience.

“I have noticed that CC has quite a few students who believe they are very knowledgeable and worldly, but tend to be more disrespectful towards people of color on campus. CC itself it seems is supporting native students as best they can, but the students who attend the school do not always have the same ideas in mind.”  While something simple like a name change may seem insignificant to some, it would be a huge step for Native Americans. 

Both NASU and Spoon University are open to all who are interested. Spoon U is for “anyone on campus who is interested in food, health, writing, photography, and event planning,” and has meetings every Thursday at 8 p.m.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and NASU has “a wide variety of events happening. [They] would love respectful support from the CC community.” In addition, they have meetings every Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in the Southwest Studies Building, and “would love for any indigenous students or allies to attend.”

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