Native American students make up 0.9 percent of the student population at the University of Wisconsin, but a small number on campus does not necessarily translate to a small voice.
Today, on the top of Bascom Hill from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., indigenous students will put on an event celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day with music, talks and informational literature about the effects of colonization on Native Americans.
Indigenous Peoples Day, a relatively new secular holiday, is described as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day with the purpose of promoting Native American culture and history.
Wunk Sheek co-secretary and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztl?n member Ryan Young said the holiday allows Native American students to generate more awareness on campus.
“There are a lot of people on campus that aren’t consciously aware that Native Americans still do exist,” Young said. “We’re bringing awareness to Native Americans in higher education.”
Young said the transition for Native Americans living on reservations to the university setting can be challenging. Young also emphasized Indigenous People’s Day is for celebrating indigenous people from all walks of life.
Young also noted in addition to creating more awareness of issues surrounding Native Americans and their voice on campus, the holiday aims to highlight the history of indigenous people.
“It’s a day to get information out to people who still believe Columbus discovered America,” Young said.
Americans celebrate Columbus Day to remember the landing of Columbus in the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492.
“Over time there is some sense that Columbus somehow fits into the story of American nationalism,” said Charles Cohen, UW history and religious studies professor. “The notion that Columbus is associated with the United States is a particular construction of the 19th century.”
Cohen said this notion grew and solidified in the 20th century and manifestations of Columbus remain prominent in today’s society, citing examples like Columbus Circle, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, and Columbus, Wis.
He added the emergence of Columbus as an American figure and the celebration of Columbus Day depicts an interesting cultural phenomenon.
“It’s an important point to make about how people construct their history,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t make them historically accurate but may make them important.”
He said both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day are political celebrations, each with questions of politics and identity at their core.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is an attempt to convey the idea that American Indians inhabited the continent long before Europeans did,” he said. “For them, Columbus’s arrival and everything that came after was a disaster of great proportions. They’re creating a counter-narrative.”