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Professor starts petition that calls for name change of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day

(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell) A wide-shot of the Mark and Elisa Saab emerging technologies and innovation center

Ashley Rose Rivera
Connector Editor

Maia Gil’Adi, an assistant professor of English specializing in Latinx literature and culture at UMass Lowell, has started a petition calling for UMass Lowell to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in its own calendar.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day, acknowledged as the second Monday of October, is a commemorative date celebrating and recognizing Native American people and their history/culture. Held on the same day as Columbus Day, the implementation of Indigenous Peoples Day can be seen as a rejection of Christopher Columbus and the violent history of colonization by European explorers in the western hemisphere.

In a movement that is becoming popular, more and more places are accepting the switch that calls to attention the history of those Native to America as opposed to glamorizing the European explorer whose practices stole land from the indigenous peoples, amongst other atrocities.

First proposed in 1977, the first state to make the switch official was South Dakota in 1989. According to NPR, at least 10 states have switched and now celebrate a version of Indigenous Peoples Day, and many colleges have also followed suit.

“Columbus Day as a holiday is one that brings up really difficult histories of violence, racial violence, sexual violence, the decimation of the environment, really extreme genocidal violence,” said Gil’Adí.

This comes amid an atmosphere of political turmoil over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor along with police brutality in the United States, further brought to public attention by the black lives matter movement.

“I think there’s a way that Columbus Day and anti-Black racism in this country are connected…anti-Black and brown violence and racism have always been present. It’s something we need to recognize.”

Floyd was an unarmed black man who died after Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis police stood on his neck for over 8 minutes. Taylor was a 26-year-old black EMT who was killed by Louisville police officers in her sleep. Her murderers, Detective Brett Hankison and two officers were not charged with her death as of Sept. 24.

These grassroots movements have led to a national response that created social unrest throughout the country.

“We saw a lot of people really concerned with the role of race and ethnicity not only at the local level but also nationally,” said Gil’Adí. “And so with a few other people in my department we sent out this [letter]…   not only in support of students of color in our department but also asking ourselves and our colleagues and students to really…  consider how important it is to…examine academically and socially systemic reasons racism [is] in our country and how that affects our teaching practices and learning practices and how curriculum is being established.”Pr

Fueled by the motivation and desire to bring the plight and culture of minority groups to the forefront of a larger conversation, Indigenous Peoples Day is a positive move in the direction of societal change. Calling on the university to acknowledge the implications of having Columbus Day in their calendar, and to instead opt for a name change, is one of the ways in which staff and students at UMass Lowell are trying to bring about reformative transformation.


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