Undergraduate group Native Americans at Harvard College hosted an Indigenous Peoples’ Day event Monday, celebrating native cultures and petitioning Harvard administrators to solely accept Indigenous Peoples' Day as the official University holiday and cease recognition of Columbus Day.
Monday’s event, held in front of Matthews Hall in Harvard Yard, featured songs, dances, and narrative performances by Native American Harvard affiliates. Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern and Joseph P. Gone, faculty director of the Harvard University Native American Program, also delivered speeches. Both speakers discussed the importance of working with Native Americans to properly recognize indigenous history and culture at Harvard and in the greater Boston area.
McGovern said the Cambridge City Council’s 2016 decision to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day was partially motivated by attempts to address past injustice.
“Cambridge’s history, however, like the rest of the country, is stained by the actions of our ancestors,” he said. “It’s up to us to right those wrongs on our journey to building an inclusive and equitable city, and that includes shelving Columbus Day to allow other perspectives and stories to come forward.”
In his comments, McGovern said there was a need for the city and University to consider historical context as it pertains to indigenous people when reflecting on their own histories.
“Any history that we tell about ourselves, this University, or this city, must rightly begin with [the Massachusett people],” he said.
“A blind celebration of Columbus, without any deeper analysis or critique, is really not appropriate,” Gone added.
NAHC also circulated a petition requesting that Harvard’s administration solely recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day rather than jointly recognizing it with Columbus Day. The petition had garnered more 1,200 signatures as of Monday evening. University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the petition.
Following McGovern and Gone’s remarks, organizers exhibited Native American students’ culture and tribe-specific identity. The outdoor event concluded with a group dance. Attendees then moved indoors to Ticknor Lounge in Boylston Hall for traditional indigenous food.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who attended Monday’s event, said that it was the role of the College to “honor the history of voices that have often been forgotten or intentionally erased.”
Members of NAHC further acknowledged recent, tangible changes in the attention that they have received from the administration. According to NAHC Treasurer Kenard G. Dillon ’17-20, the administration has been more receptive to the group.
“The administration has been cooperative,” Dillon said. “They’ve been responding to our messages and emails, which they hadn’t done in years previous.”