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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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ASUU Debates Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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?? (Courtney has his name) during the ASUU Assembly to change “Columbs Day” to “Indigidous People’s Day on Tuesday, Jan 26, 2015. (Chris Ayers, Daily Utah Chronicle) Photo credit: Christopher Ayers

It’s a conversation more common in classrooms than student governments: whether to admire or admonish the 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus.

But in an unexpected move, the ASUU Assembly took up the topic Tuesday night, voting in favor of Joint Resolution 4 to replace the federally recognized holiday Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, with Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the U. Vice President Anthony Fratto, who spoke in favor of the legislation, said the point is to celebrate the Native American population in Utah instead of a man who conquered and killed the tribes who lived on this continent prior to European exploration.

Fratto, who self-identified as white, Catholic, male and Italian (exactly matching Columbus’ nationality and identity), believes the U has an obligation to support the initiative because of its connection to the Utes. He urged student legislators to drop their “strong hatred for this bill” and received support from about 10 members of various tribes who attended the meeting.

“Christopher Columbus himself was a murderer of indigenous people,” said Orville Cayaditto, a Navajo and president of the Inter Tribal Student Association at the U. “Having a day celebrating a murderer of our peoples should not be allowed.”

Anthony Fratto speaking on behalf of the Indegidous poeple during the ASUU Assembly on Tuesday, Jan 26, 2015. (Chris Ayers, Daily Utah Chronicle)
Anthony Fratto speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day during the ASUU Assembly on Tuesday, Jan 26, 2015. (Chris Ayers, Daily Utah Chronicle)

Several assembly members, though, hesitated at the thought of abolishing Columbus Day. Rep. Jessica Craig, a Caucasian, opposed the resolution and questioned the need to replace one holiday with another.

“Couldn’t we have Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day?” she asked Cayaditto. “Has that ever occurred to you?”

Craig, advocating for separate celebrations on two different days, worried that in getting rid of Columbus Day ASUU would be erasing what she feels is an important part of American history.

“We’re not focusing on oppression or colonialism — at least, that’s not what I believe” when celebrating Columbus Day, she said.

Rep. Alex Norton, a person of color and the only other remaining dissenter when the final vote was called, asked the tribal representatives if they’d consider calling the holiday Discovery Day, which is what Hawaii celebrates in lieu of Columbus Day to honor its Polynesian ancestry. Kyle Ethelbah, a White Mountain Apache and director of the U’s TRiO Programs, believes crediting Columbus with “discovery” is offensive.

“We were not discovered. We were actually here,” he said, referring to the Native Americans already living on the continent before Columbus’ arrival in 1492. “Discovery assumes that we were lost. We were not lost.”

The ASUU Senate will hear the resolution Thursday night. If it passes there, Student Body President Ambra Jackson hopes to present the measure to the U’s Board of Trustees and President David Pershing for final approval in February or March.

A few other colleges in the U.S. have approved similar initiatives, including Oklahoma University and the University of Alaska Southeast, which both switched to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. All universities in Utah, however, currently recognize Columbus Day, which became a federal holiday in 1937, on school calendars.

Fratto said switching the U’s celebration to honor Native Americans, particularly the eight tribes in Utah, would educate students about the heritage of these peoples. The new holiday could include events, which he said Columbus Day usually doesn’t have, focused on awareness. The U’s American Indian Resource Center and the Inter Tribal Student Association have previously held powwows and lectures, such as inviting Goshute tribal elders to speak on campus, several times throughout the year, but they hope to do more with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“We are around,” Cayaditto said. “We just aren’t recognized.”

Franci Taylor, a Choctaw and executive director of the resource center, wrote a letter to the ASUU Assembly asking them to listen to arguments in favor of the resolution with their “deepest consideration.” State Sen. Jim Dabakis (D-Salt Lake City) also penned a note encouraging the initiative as a way to make the U a “better and more inclusive campus.”

The ASUU Government Relations Director Connor Yakaitis plans to file a motion with the State Legislature asking Utah to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as well. At least seven states have already done so. Fratto, who said the initiative has been in the works with the ASUU Executive Cabinet for a couple months, believes the effort is not an attempt to be politically correct, but is rather a chance to make things right.

“This holiday is not to threaten your patriotism, but to support it,” Fratto said. “I ask you to be on the right side of our university history.”

[email protected]

@CourtneyLTanner

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    AprilOct 2, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    White people are responsible for all the evil in the world, genocide them all.

    Reply