Students propose Indigenous Peoples' Day

Noel Lyn Smith
Associated Students of San Juan College President Jessica Valdez answers questions on Monday during a meeting at San Juan College in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A group of San Juan College students are taking steps to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples' Day on campus.

Their proposal would have Indigenous Peoples' Day observed on the same day that the majority of the country commemorates Columbus Day.

The college does not list Columbus Day on its academic calendar, said spokeswoman Renee Lucero. The campus remains open during the federal holiday.

The students' effort comes a week after the Albuquerque City Council voted 6-3 to recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples' Day. Minneapolis, Seattle, Anadarko, Okla., Portland, Ore., and Lawrence, Kan., are among the cities that have adopted Indigenous Peoples' Day.

The movement, which has taken hold in communities nationwide, seeks to recognize the culture and history of Native Americans as a counter-holiday to Columbus Day.

San Juan College students presented their proposal Monday to the Associated Students of San Juan College.

After hearing the group's concerns, Jessica Valdez, president of the governing student body, decided to develop an ad hoc committee to examine the request, which could end up before the board of regents.

Books, fliers and posters about Indigenous Peoples' Day are displayed at a booth on Monday at San Juan College in Farmington.

“It is serious for the people that are passionate about it,” Valdez said, adding she appreciated the effort to educate the student body about Indigenous Peoples' Day.

The group's vice president, Tse Chi "Chad" Yen, shared Valdez's sentiments.

“You don’t need to be indigenous to support this cause,” he said.

The call to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples' Day started after students learned about Christopher Columbus in the college's Native Studies class taught by Gilbert Brown, an adjunct professor at the college.

“Indigenous Peoples' Day is more appropriate,” Brown said.

To gather campus input, students set up tables near the tutoring center and shared information on Monday.

To measure the student body's thoughts on the subject, they also asked students to cast votes on whether to change the name of Columbus Day. The effort generated 130 votes in favor of Indigenous Peoples' Day and five votes in support of retaining Columbus Day.

Voting will continue from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Louva Tsosie was among the students advocating for Indigenous Peoples' Day.

From left, San Juan College librarians Danielle Burbank and Kim Lowe sit at a booth with information about Indigenous Peoples' Day on Monday at San Juan College in Farmington.

“I believe that someday it will all change. Columbus doesn’t deserve to have a holiday named after him,” Tsosie said.

Earlier in the day, she said the majority of her time was spent talking to students about Columbus. She said the education she received about Columbus when she was younger was “sugarcoated.”

“Now that I am older, I understand it, I see it and I know the truth. I think that it should be exposed truthfully in history books now,” Tsosie said.

Student Rashaun Nez said he became involved in the cause because the history books do not teach about the atrocities Columbus committed and the social issues faced by Native Americans.

“My main problem with it is how history portrays him as a hero and it’s watered down. … It needs to be change, if we do truly respect one another,” he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.

From left, Associated Students of San Juan College Vice President Tse Chi "Chad" Yen speaks with Louva Tsosie and Danielle Burbank on Monday after a meeting at San Juan College in Farmington.