San Juan College sets Indigenous Peoples Day

Noel Lyn Smith
San Juan College librarians Danielle Burbank, left, and Kim Lowe sit at a booth with information about Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 12 at San Juan College in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – San Juan College is joining the ranks of higher-learning institutions and governments across the country in recognizing the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day.

On March 29, the College Council approved and implemented a March 14 resolution by the Associated Students of San Juan College that establishes a campus-wide recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day.

The action came after a group of students approached the student government last year with concerns about Columbus Day and shared its reasons for recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day on campus.

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

According to the student government resolution, instituting Indigenous Peoples Day is “not to be misconstrued as an effort to supplant any existing federally recognized holidays.”

Louva Tsosie is one of the students who has been involved in the initiative since it started in October. Tsosie said the project begin as a way to inform the campus community about the culture and history of indigenous peoples, and evolved into developing a day for celebrating and sharing all cultures and peoples.

“We want to reach out to a lot of different cultures to share with us their values,” she said.

Robert Dornburg became involved with the initiative after attending a forum organized by an ad hoc committee that examined the students’ proposal after it was presented on Oct. 12 to the student governing body.

“I feel confident in the direction this is taking because it’s moving in a way that’s going to enlighten everybody, not just natives. It’s going to educate non-natives,” Dornburg said.

The initiative started after students learned about Christopher Columbus in the college’s Native Studies class taught by Gilbert Brown, an adjunct professor at the college. Brown, Tsosie and Dornberg were members of the ad hoc committee.

Brown applauded the students’ dedication to the proposal and characterized the approval by the student government and the college administration as “cohesive.”

“We’re very visible as Native students, as indigenous peoples here on campus. I think with a day, we can provide more education to find out who we are,” he said.

According to the student government resolution, more than 53 percent of the student population at the college is Native American, Hispanic or Latino.

Establishing a day that honors a universal celebration of cultures is one reason the governing student body supported the proposal, Associated Students President Tse Chi "Chad" Yen said.

“Ultimately, it is an effort in celebration of inclusivity and diversity … That’s why all voices do matter in this entire process,” he said.

The road to reaching a finalized resolution took several months, including five drafts and numerous discussion that occurred from October to March, Yen said.

As part of the process, the student government formed an ad hoc committee comprised of 16 core members — primarily students, and faculty and staff members — who created dialogue on campus about the initiative.

They also collected approximately 300 signatures on a petition supporting Indigenous Peoples Day and sponsored forums to educate the campus community about the proposal.

The next forum will be in the student study lounge on the second floor of the Student Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

The ad hoc committee also presented the issue and received support from employees through the support staff association, professional staff association and faculty association, Yen said. That support helped the proposal gain final support from the College Council, he said.

The College Council membership consists of administration personnel and members of the employee associations and student government. The council supplies input to the college president and vice president on decisions.

Dave Eppich, vice president for student services, said the council unanimously approved the resolution by the student government last week.

He said the initiative was an “educational endeavor” by the students because it demonstrated the college’s process for implementing such recommendations.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.