UI planning campuswide celebration for Indigenous Peoples' Day

UI planning campuswide celebration for Indigenous Peoples' Day

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois is joining in a celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day on Monday, with UI graduate Charlene Teters as the keynote speaker.

Indigenous Peoples' Day, seen as an alternative to Columbus Day, has been celebrated for years at the university, led by native students, La Casa Cultural Latina and the Native American House.

This is "the first time it will be a university-level event," campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

Commemorating Indigneous Peoples' Day was one suggestion in the report from last spring's "critical conversation" on Chief Illiniwek and Native American imagery in sports.

But the campus had already been moving in that direction, Kaler said Monday.

"It's a celebration of native heritage," she said. "One of the things that did come out of the critical conversation is that everybody agreed that we need to find ways to honor our native culture and heritage."

Columbus Day is not a campus holiday on the UI calendar, and neither is Indigenous Peoples' Day.

"It's an event," Kaler said. "We're talking about trying to find ways to honor Native American heritage. This is a way that a lot of places do that."

Kaler said the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, descendants of the native people who once inhabited Illinois, also supports the idea.

Indigenous Peoples' Day is celebrated throughout the Western Hemisphere and is an official holiday in some locations, officials said. Instead of honoring Christopher Columbus, it recognizes Native Americans as the first inhabitants of what later became the United States. Advocates argue that Columbus did not "discover" America in 1492 but instead began the colonization of it. Native American activists have advocated abolishing Columbus Day, which became a federal holiday in 1937.

Four states — Minnesota, Vermont, Alaska and South Dakota — celebrate some version of Indigenous Peoples' Day, as do more than 50 cities, according to lists compiled by Time magazine and History.com.

They include Phoenix; Los Angeles; Seattle; Denver; Portland, Ore.; Tulsa, Okla.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Salt Lake City, as well as numerous college towns such as Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis.; Moscow, Idaho; Iowa City, Iowa; and Berkeley, Calif.

Several universities recognize it as a campus holiday, including Brown University, where it replaced the fall holiday.

At the UI, a ceremony is planned from 11 a.m .to 1 p.m. on the South Quad near the ACES Library, 1101 S. Goodwin Ave., U. A reception will follow.

It will begin with a welcome song by the Bad River Singers, composed of tribal members from both the Bad River Nation and the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Nation.

Chancellor Robert Jones will give opening remarks, and Matt Gilbert, director of the American Indian Studies Program, will introduce Teters.

A Spokane Nation tribal member, Teters graduated from the UI in 1994 with a degree in painting. While a student, she gained national attention for publicly opposing Chief Illiniwek and other Native American sports images, saying they harmed native communities.

Teters is an academic dean at the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M.

Following traditional Indigenous offerings, Jones and native students will plant a tree on the South Quad.

"Indigenous Peoples' Day is important for the public, both for native people and also for non-native people, to remember that this land that we call the United States is Indian land. Long before Europeans ever set food on this land or the Americas, indigenous people were here living and thriving," Gilbert said.

Gilbert and Nichole Boyd, director of Native American House, credited Jones for his leadership on the issue and for the statement now read at major UI events acknowledging the tribes who lived on the land where the university now sits.

"That's something that we just haven't seen with prior administrations," Gilbert said.

Boyd said most Big Ten schools recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day in some way, and a few are hoping to make it more official.

"We're really excited that it's a campuswide celebration," Boyd said. "I think for any campus, it's an important step for the institution to make if they are truly dedicated to serving and working with indigenous communities, which I think Illinois is."