The holiday was renamed in favor of the victims of Native subjugation throughout American history.
Since 1934, the United States has celebrated Columbus Day every second Monday in October. Many cities hold parades to celebrate the holiday, producing a sanitized version of Columbus’s actions, which include murder, rape and enslavement. As a counter-holiday, dozens of states and cities, including Tulsa, have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, recognizing the oppression of Native Americans and celebrating their culture.
Why the reclaiming of a holiday? For starters, Columbus wasn’t the first European to glimpse the Americas. His findings were actually five centuries too late. He was, however, the catalyst for European exploration and exploitation of Native peoples.
“The problem with making Columbus a hero is that it’s not true,” said TU’s Indigenous Society’s councilwoman Jennie Stockle. “What Columbus actually did was start the beginning of a massive genocide, probably the biggest one in human history, against Indigenous people.”
Reclaiming Columbus Day makes a statement. Instead of Columbus, the holiday honors the culture of the people who have been on this land before Europeans encountered it. Those in favor of changing the name believe it is also intended for educating non-Native Americans about the history of the U.S. before European settlement. The conversation has a purposeful change in focus, shifting from the commemoration of Columbus’s atrocities to the recognition of the endurance of Indigenous people.
“It’s important that we don’t lie to ourselves about our past. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is really about celebrating what was so good and dear to the Americas before Europeans at that time destroyed it,” Stockle added. “Indigenous peoples’ original history deserves to be preserved as much as possible.”
At Guthrie Green, activities held by the Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs Commission included music, tribal dancing and a parade. TU’s Indigenous Society was invited to walk with the Tulsa Indian Club for the parade. Members talked to dignitaries and networked with the Native American community.
“That was the first time I felt welcome at Guthrie Green. What Tulsa did is a great small step. I see native culture as a way to unite our country in what should have been done in the past,” Stockle said.
The history of Native Americans is deeply embedded in TU’s campus, which is located on Muskogee-Creek land and is in their jurisdiction. The university started as The Presbyterian School for Girls to educate young Creek women. With this background in mind, Stockle believes it is important for students to recognize the roots of the school, and that the way to do that is to recognize a culture deeply embedded in TU since the beginning.
TU’s Indigenous Society wants students to know there is a Native American community behind them who wants them to grow and learn. They believe that celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a first step towards greater education and overall understanding of the community so integral to the background of Oklahoma.
“When you look around and see that our art is alive, our stories are alive, our people are alive and vibrant, and that our communities are strong, you know that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not a celebration of the past,” Chuck Hoskin Jr. said to the Tulsa World. He continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a celebration of a bright future, and we’re doing it right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
TU’s Indigenous Society has a general meeting every third Thursday of the month in the Chevron Multicultural Resource Center. Meetings are open to all students. More information on the club can be found on the Involvio app.