Rethinking Columbus Day

GVL / Emily Frye    
Levi Rickert and Steve Perry during the NASA Water is Life rally on Monday Oct. 10, 2016.

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye Levi Rickert and Steve Perry during the NASA “Water is Life” rally on Monday Oct. 10, 2016.

Kyle Doyle

A group of 300 protesters from the Standing Rock Native American tribe moved in to stop bulldozers that were clearing a path for the Dakota Access Pipeline through their ancestral burial grounds. Unbeknownst to them, a private security company hired by Energy Transfer Partners was waiting for them to move in. When the Standing Rock people moved in, the security company released German shepherds and pit bulls on to the protesters, injuring several of them.

What they did at Standing Rock is exactly what Christopher Columbus did when he came to the Americas, said Levi Rickert, editor for Native News Online. Only, the dogs didn’t kill the people at Standing Rock.

On Monday, Oct. 10, Grand Valley State University hosted “Rethinking Columbus: A Movement Toward Indigenous Peoples Day.” The event brought to light issues facing the Native American community from both history and the present day, and called for Columbus Day to be disbanded and replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day.

The event featured a panel ranging from members of the Potawatomi tribe to city officials to journalists who talked about the treatment of native peoples in the Americas since Columbus’ first landing, drawing parallels to the protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“If I got on a bulldozer and I started going through a cemetery, I’d be arrested,” Rickert said. “I’d be on the front page of the paper, I’d be made out to be the biggest monster ever.”

The protests, which started in August, have sparked controversy across the nation. Several people have called for a halt to construction of the pipe through the land deemed culturally sensitive, including President Barack Obama, Senator Bernie Sanders and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

Several members of the Native American community have shown their support as well as a growing numbers of protesters, exceeding 4,000 people.

Project manager of the Gi-gikinomaage-min project and chair of the Grand Rapids community relations commission Lin Bardwell, said what is happening in Dakota is disgraceful.

“It would be like me going into Arlington and digging everything up,” Bardwell said.

The panel discussed Columbus Day and the history behind it, unanimously agreeing Columbus should not have his own day, but instead, the second Monday of October should be renamed Indigenous Peoples Day, in order to celebrate all native peoples in the Americas.

“I was a history teacher for a long time (and) I always had a problem with it (Columbus Day) because I knew the real history,” said Steven Naganashe Perry, part-time faculty member and member of the GVSU Native American advisory board. “People don’t understand that perspective, they don’t understand the atrocities that happened and to honor him is a disservice.”

The event attracted a wide array of students looking to become more knowledgeable on the topic.

“I wanted to learn more about the history behind Columbus Day because all you ever hear about it is how he sailed the ocean blue in 1492,” said Katherine Webster, a GVSU sophomore. “I remember in the K-12 system, we didn’t really learn too much in depth about how it affected the Native Americans.”