Native Americans at Harvard College commemorated indigenous cultures that existed before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas with candles at their Candle Held Vigil on Monday.
Around forty students and members of the Harvard community gathered outside Matthews Hall to remember the impact of indigenous people in history and to advocate for the University to change the name of the holiday.
“We hold [the vigil] every year to remember where we came from in the past,” said April A. Sperry ’13, the secretary of NAHC. “I think it’s important to remember where we came from and where we’re going.”
Cesareo Alvarez ’13, the president of NAHC, welcomed the attendees and asked for everyone to introduce themselves before leading the group in a moment of silence and reflection on the history of indigenous peoples in the Americas.
Alvarez said that NAHC’s goal is to get the University to change the name of the holiday, calling it “Fall Weekend” or “Indigenous People’s Day” like some other universities.
“Columbus Day isn’t universally celebrated on campus,” he said. “This day misrepresents--distorts--our history.”
Alvarez said he hopes that NAHC can join with the Latino community in the college to make their voice on the issue heard.
Sperry said that changing the name of the holiday in the University would make it more inclusive of indigenous people.
“By calling it Columbus Day, I think people forget that indigenous people were here first and remain here,” she said.
L. Fay Alexander ’14, who came to support her friends at the vigil, also said that she would like to see the University change the name of the day.
“Hopefully the University will take note of groups like NAHC that wish for them to just change the name of the day and respect the culture,” she said.
Shelly C. Lowe, the executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program, explained to the crowd that the event was held outside of Matthews Hall because in 1996 alumni placed a plaque on the building that commemorates the 1650 Charter, which called for the education of both Native American and English students.
Alvin H. Warren, a student at the Harvard Kennedy School, closed the vigil with a prayer. After the vigil, the attendees walked together to Winthrop house and gathered to socialize and eat fry bread, a traditional Navajo Native American food.