Student Government Votes to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day


By Michael Eberhart, News Editor

The Mason Student Senate passed legislation urging the university “to recognize the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” in addition to Columbus Day.

Resolution 10 passed by an overwhelming 25-1-2 vote at the Oct. 12 meeting, held just three days after the school officially celebrated Columbus Day.

The resolution defines Indigenous Peoples’ Day as “a day of celebration that aims to promote Native American culture, [and] commemorate the history of Native American Peoples.”

Speaker Pro Tempore Brendan Sullivan spoke in favor of the resolution before the vote began. “We did our best to be inclusive of all communities, and I really hope we can get this on calendars as quickly as possible,” he said after the meeting.

In the days leading up to the vote, the Student Senate held an online poll to gauge feelings on campus about changing the calendars. Out of 331 votes, 283 students voted in favor of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Only 48 voted against the new holiday, or had no opinion.

But not everyone was satisfied after an amendment to include language condemning Christopher Columbus was left out of the final resolution.

The amendment was introduced by Senator Andrew Post, who said “I’m happy with the resolution passing, it is a step forward. But in terms of two years ago, it’s a step backwards because the original resolution that was enacted two years ago had much harsher language – it had the condemnation of Columbus within it and we didn’t do anything to change that. It really shocks me to see this kind of walk back on the legislation.” Post is also President of the Native American and Indigenous Alliance.

The thirty-sixth Student Senate voted on Resolution 13 early in 2016. The controversial legislation called for the university to outright replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, and also included a section criticizing Columbus for “egregious crimes against humanity.” Although the resolution passed in student government, it was ignored by the university.

Caleb Kitchen, now a graduate student at the SCHAR school, was one of three senators to vote against Resolution 13 last year. But on Thursday, he came out to speak in favor of passing the new legislation.

“The topic of Indigenous Peoples’ Day two years ago brought a lot of division to this campus,” said Kitchen. “I’m proud that today they were able to overcome that. I don’t think the amendment was appropriate… Resolution 13 undermined the ability to have the conversation in the first place, this resolution doesn’t have that problem.”

However, other students were disappointed that the condemnation of Columbus did not make it into the final resolution this year. Noah Black, a senior majoring in global affairs, spoke out for the amendment before the final vote.

“Everything about Columbus is essentially shrouded in genocide and racism,” Black said after the meeting. “I feel like without condemning Columbus, passing a resolution to support indigenous peoples day is a half-hearted attempt, it’s just a way for people to remain comfortable without acknowledging a painful history.”

This opinion was shared by Alicia Suchicital, a senior majoring in bioengineering and President of the Society for Advancement of Chicano/Hispanic and Native Americans in Science.

“The person who made that motion for the amendment to the resolution, he’s representing the only voice that we have on that board, and there was no support.” said Suchicital. “Christopher Columbus contributed to the mass genocide of indigenous people – this is on the record, this is common knowledge – so the more we pretend that it didn’t happen feeds into the same historical erasure that they claim to avoid.”

Senator Michael Gracia cast the sole vote against Resolution 10 at the meeting. He declined to comment for this story.

Photo Courtesy of Mason Creative Services