Indigenous People’s Day: Celebrating tribal heritage through cultural education

Sophia Kobernusz-Gibbs, Staff Writer 

Oct.12th is recognized as Indigenous People’s Day, a day meant for the celebration of Indigenous heritage. This push of acknowledgement for those whose lands we reside on started in 1990 in South Dakota, and has begun to spread across the United States. National Public Radio (NPR)  states that “at least 10 states now celebrate some version of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October, like Hawaii’s Discoverers’ Day or South Dakota’s Native American’s day.” 

NPR also said that while not a lot of states have made official statewide policies, many college campuses, cities, and towns are making this change on their own, Saint Martin’s University being one of them. This past Oct.12th was a day of learning and partnership between the Diversity Center of Saint Martin’s University, the Indigenous People’s Alliance of Saint Martin’s, and the Nisqually Tribe. 

This event did not occur without work, thought, and process. This is the Year of Transformation, which influenced the origin of this event. John Hopkins, Ph.D., Director of the Diversity Center, speaks on this, saying, “Janie Sacco, Ph.D., [is] heading a committee dedicated to this. A section of this committee is dedicated to Indigenous People’s Day.” Saint Martin’s has been in dialogue with the Nisqually Tribe since 2018. Hopkins talked about re-entering dialogue with the Nisqually Tribe during Indigenous People’s Day. “It was important that we keep the connection with the Nisqually nation,” Hopkins said. Having a day of Indigenous acknowledgment should include those who originally tilled the land.

The day started with a land acknowledgment and decolonization discussion. It then proceeded to host Nisqually representatives, Willie Frank III and Hanford McCloud, two Tribal Council Members from the Nisqually Tribe. These two speakers came in and talked about their culture, environmental concerns, and the fight for treaty rights. The day concluded with a movie viewing of “Reel Injun,” a documentary looking at Native American representation in Hollywood movies. The representation of Indigenous people as documented in “Reel Injun” spans from the old Cowboy-and-Indian Westerns like “Stagecoach” to “Atanarjuat: Fast Runner,” a movie by and about the Inuit peoples of arctic Canada. The movie viewing was followed by a discussion, where students and faculty talked with members of the Indigenous People’s Alliance.

Hopkins talked about how over the past few years, faculty and staff have started doing more land acknowledgement, but not in this particular fashion. When opening for the representatives of the Nisqually Tribe, Hopkins stated, “we should show Benedictine hospitality but we are really the guests here. We are standing on ancestral Nisqually homeland.”

McCloud’s talk was mainly focused on the culture of his people and how it influenced him. He showed a film of the canoe families, talked about the practice of weaving within his family, and his experience of growing up in Yelm on reservation land. Frank III talked about growing up with an activist father, and how his father prepared him to be a leader by taking him to tribal meetings about respecting treaty rights. Frank III is the son of Billy Frank Jr., a prominent environmental and treaty rights activist in the 1960s, who led fish-ins during the Tribal fish wars of the 1960s and 1970s. Frank III talked about how his father’s activism was comparable with that of the Civil Rights protests in the South happening at the same time. 

Events surrounding Indigenous People’s Day are looking to proceed in the future. Hopkins shared his hopes for development of this day, “Hopefully, it becomes not just the Year of Transformation, but it becomes something that we look forward to each and every year.”

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