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ASU Students Take a Stand for Establishing Indigenous People’s Day

The ASU American Indian Council members vying to bring awareness to ASU Community.

The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus is known mostly for “discovering” America. He completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean between 1492 and 1503 that opened the door for European contact with the Americas. When he and his men reached Hispaniola, the Bahamas, Cuba and other islands in the Caribbean, they made contact with peaceful Indigenous peoples already living there: the Lucayan and Taíno, or Arawak.

So, did Christopher Columbus really “discover” America? The American Indian population in the Americas—and more specifically, the American Indian Council (AIC) at Arizona State University (ASU)—begs to differ. The AIC kick-started a student-driven initiative to have the university calendar replace “Columbus Day” with Indigenous People’s Day, celebrated on Monday, October 10. This would empower ASU’s Native student population and provide much-needed education to those who are unaware of the various American Indian cultures in Arizona.

According to ASU’s website, “The American Indian Council (AIC) at Arizona State University is one of the seven student coalitions who promote and represent the voice of various cultures within the university. AIC is dedicated to serving and supporting the various American Indian student organizations on campus.”

“The idea of Indigenous People’s Day has been brought up to bring awareness to the community and to celebrate the Indigenous cultures, because they deserve it. It also leads to something greater in terms of having Arizona State University taking on the initiative of bringing Indigenous People’s Day,” said the initiative’s co-facilitator Thomasina Dinehdeal, a sophomore majoring in elementary education.

Students at ASU have talked of changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day for years. Over the summer, the AIC accepted the challenge, preparing a plan of action and drafting verbiage for a bill to change the name. They heard both the pros and cons of the bill, but never lost hope. They continued their initiative at ASU’s main campus with a petition drive, educating students who were passing by about Indigenous People’s Day and asking for signatures in support.

“Our goal was to have 1,000 signatures. We have about 950 signatures. We want to set an example for the state of Arizona [and show] that ASU does recognize Indigenous People’s Day,” said Dinehdeal.

Tuesday, September 6, was a turning point for the effort as the Tempe Undergraduate Student Government Senate passed Bill 44, allowing for ASU to now replace Columbus Day on the calendar with Indigenous People’s Day. This initiative has the backing of ASU at three of its four campuses in the Valley.

“The bill was passed last night to have Indigenous People’s Day recognized on the ASU calendar. It’s been passed on the Tempe, Polytechnic and Downtown campuses. Now we need to make a plan of action for the West campus and the Graduate Professional Students Association. After they all jump on board, we are planning our event at all four ASU campuses on October 7,” said Dinehdeal.

“This means a lot for the [AIC] because we’ve been working on this all summer. We want to extend our appreciation to our member organizations and others who have helped with this initiative. Without them, we couldn’t have gotten this far,” added Dinehdeal.

In terms of what this would do for not only ASU, but Indian Country as well, “this petition will bring awareness to the unique and resilient cultures around the world,” said Dinehdeal. “There’s a misconception that Indians are a walking past. [People] expect to see an American Indian walking around in buckskin, braids and feathers, or [believe] that it would be rare to see an American Indian. This bill will bring awareness to the community and show that there are American Indians that walk among you, and they do everything that you do.”

For more information about the initiative, visit ASU’s American Indian Council on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/asu.american.indian.council/.