While student groups like the Association of Native Americans at Yale and the Yale College Council participated in virtual celebrations in honor of Indigenous People’s Day on Monday, notably absent in the holiday’s acknowledgement was the University itself.
The commemorative holiday is held on the second Monday of October. The day is traditionally known as Columbus Day, a federal holiday which marks the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. But many towns and states have abandoned Columbus Day in favor of honoring the history and contributions of Indigenous peoples, pointing to Columbus’ historical role in perpetuating violence and genocide against Indigenous peoples.
“I think Yale should recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day because Indigenous scholarly and artistic efforts like the ‘Place, Nations, Generations, Beings’ exhibit, the ‘Making Space for Resistance’ exhibit, the East Coast premiere of ‘Manahatta,’ and countless other student advocacy and awareness efforts all make Yale the place that it is today,” said ANAAY President Meghanlata Gupta ’21, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
A proposal asking the University to place Indigenous Peoples’ Day on its official calendar and asking Yale College Dean Marvin Chun to send a college-wide email in recognition of the holiday was sent to Dean Chun and University Secretary Kimberly Goff-Crews last Thursday. The policy proposal was co-signed by the Yale College Council, ANAAY, the Endowment Justice Coalition, the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program and Red Territory, a drum group at Yale.
Gupta drafted the proposal and email with YCC vice president Reilly Johnson ’22 and senator Kinsale Hueston ’23, who is Diné.
“Since its establishment in 1701, and especially over the last year, Yale University has profited off of Indigenous arts, cultures, and communities,” the letter read, pointing out as examples the Indigenous art exhibit “Place, Nations, Generations, Beings” displayed at the Yale University Art Gallery last year and the Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of “Manahatta” by Mary Kathryn Nagle, a Native playwright.
The proposal also drew attention to the holiday’s particular importance in light of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Yale for its consideration of race in its admissions process. Renewed attacks against affirmative action would “disproportionately affect Indigenous students who are already underrepresented at Yale,” the proposal read.
Josie Steuer Ingall ’24, an organizer for the Endowment Justice Coalition, wrote to the News that the student group — which advocates for the University’s strategic divestment from “unethical holdings” — believes in “uplifting Indigenous perspectives on environmental justice, as they are frontline witnesses to the climate crisis.”
Recognition of the holiday would be a meaningful step Yale could take to acknowledge the communities it has disenfranchised, Steuer Ingall said. She also expressed hopes that Yale would dedicate more programming and funding to ANAAY and other Indigenous-led organizations on campus.
While Chun expressed his support for the students’ effort to increase the visibility of the holiday, he responded to the proposal by explaining that Yale College policy “restricts email to very specific uses that don’t even allow for the narrow exception” requested. Such uses typically include critical news updates and policy changes.
Because no email came from the Dean’s office, the Yale College Council sent a college-wide email on Monday evening to encourage students to celebrate and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Goff-Crews and other Yale College deans — including Joliana Yee, director of the Asian American Cultural Center, and Burgwell Howard, dean of student engagements — made guest appearances in the video produced by the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) and ANAAY to honor the holiday.
“I’ve been thinking about joy and celebration a lot lately, and when I do, I think about the Native American community,” Goff-Crews said in the video compilation, thanking the community for their contributions to Yale.
But despite repeated attempts to convince Yale to name Indigenous Peoples’ Day an official holiday, including a student petition which circulated last year and indications of individual administrators’ support, the University has not altered its official stance.
Placing the day on the University calendar would not only constitute formal recognition of the holiday but also grant all Yale employees paid time off for the day.
It’s not unheard of for University administrators to adapt their holiday observance policy. Earlier this summer, Faculty of Arts and Sciences staff were invited to observe Juneteenth and take the afternoon off, as the holiday — which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States — gained recognition nationwide.
Several other universities, including Harvard, Brown and Cornell, have in recent years revised their calendars to observe Indigenous People’s Day. However, unlike at those schools, Yale does not designate the second Monday in October a University holiday, Columbus Day or otherwise.
The New Haven Board of Alders voted to replace Columbus Day with Italian Heritage Day in September.
Emily Tian | firstname.lastname@example.org