University of Wisconsin students gathered on Library Mall Monday to celebrate Indigenous People's Day in efforts to spread awareness and appreciation of Native Indian culture.
Initiated by Wunk Sheek, a UW American Indian student organization, the event consisted of native dance, music and speeches given by the group's leaders in opposition to Columbus Day.
The event concluded with a march to the Capitol, in which about 25 people held signs reading, "You can't discover someone's backyard" and "Cultural Resiliency since 1492."
UW senior and Dane County Supervisor Ashok Kumar initially proposed the idea for Indigenous People's Day to the Dane County Board, which voted unanimously last Thursday in favor of the event. The day was purposely scheduled as an alternative to Columbus Day.
"To me, Columbus Day is a celebration of occupation and the genocidal massacre of the indigenous population here," Kumar said. "We're trying to replace that sad chapter of American history and celebrate the survival of Indians."
The organization passed out multiple fliers at the event, one of which read, "Wanted: Christopher Columbus for grand theft, genocide, racism, rape, torture and destruction of an entire culture."
"Some people just look at this indifferently because it's been known as Columbus Day for so long," UW freshman Ishmael Cuevas said. "They just don't get the concept that we [indigenous people] were here first."
With less than 0.5 percent of UW students identifying as Native American, the event also aimed to educate people about native history.
"Indians are actually at the root of democracy," UW senior Thomas Jones said. "White settlers consulted the Indians when writing up the Constitution and just portrayed it as a Greek and European idea."
According to Aaron Bird Bear, student services coordinator of American Indian Student Academic Services, the event served not only to express dissatisfaction about European influence, but also to "celebrate renewal and make friends old and new."
He greeted the crowd with "Ya'at'eeh," the Navajo word for "Hello," just after the Wunk Sheek drum carrier Tim Annis and three other members finished performing Native Indian music.
"We put a little bit of tobacco on the drum because it's used in prayer to show our thanks for its use," Annis said. "A bunch of us students and faculty get together biweekly and play. It's just something we share with people."
UW graduate student and media outreach coordinator Alison Bowman sang along with the drums and danced with about 20 others in a two-step.
"We sing vocables, which are [songs] without words. When tribes came together and wanted to sing, there were such language barriers because of European influence," Bowman said.
Modeled after similar national events in Berkeley, Calif., and Denver, Colo., Indigenous People's Day aimed to spread awareness among UW students. According to Bird Bear, UW has about 235 American Indian undergraduates, though the Indian Studies department attracts well beyond that.
"Indian Studies is only a certificate, but we've got about 20 to 40 kids working for that," UW senior Martina Gast said. "The department is definitely expanding."