Brown faculty to vote on instituting ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’

Concerned that “Fall Weekend” may not do enough to obfuscate the celebration of Columbus Day, faculty at Brown University will vote Tuesday on whether to rename the holiday “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

“Fall Weekend is only a halfway measure, kind of a Band-Aid to get away from Columbus Day,” associate history professor Linford Fisher told The Providence Journal. “It just kind of stuffed it aside by naming it something that was unrelated.”

Fisher described the decision to rename Columbus Day “Fall Holiday” in 2009 as an attempt at “stifling controversy,” opining that “perhaps people thought that the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day was too radical a shift” at the time.

Of late, however, activists have been pressuring the school to take the additional step, most notably by holding a “die-in” on campus last October meant to protest “the 523 years of foreign occupation and indigenous resistance on this land.”

[RELATED: Student at Brown protest ‘occupation’ of Native American land]

“Although the current name of the holiday, ‘Fall Weekend,’ halts the active celebration of Columbus’ torture and genocide and the dawn of the transatlantic slave trade, this is the bare minimum that Brown University can do,” asserts a corresponding petition that has collected more than 1,200 signatures to date.

“Native students are expected to be educators as well as students,” Native American student Floripa Olguin told The Brown Daily Herald at the time. “Changing [the name] from Fall Weekend to ‘Indigenous People’s Day’ is the first, but one of many steps, towards actually creating an inclusive environment within the University.”

The proximate cause of the protests, as referenced both in the petition and by individual activists, was the controversy surrounding two opinion columns published in the Daily Herald that some students deemed to be “racist” because they defended the propriety of celebrating Columbus Day.

[RELATED: Brown student paper given ultimatum after publishing ‘racist’ op-eds]

The first column, titled “ The white privilege of cows,” examines the biological differences among races, especially with respect to the influence of geography on human evolution and the contemporary consequences of that development.

The author, M. Dzhali Maier, argues that while human societies around the world have adapted in various ways to the demands imposed by their environments, the unique availability of domesticable livestock gave those located on the Eurasian landmass a distinct advantage in establishing specialized, non-agricultural economies.

The second column, also written by Maier, has been removed from the paper’s website, having been “unintentionally published due to an internal error,” according to the editor’s note that now occupies the space, but was salvaged by several readers who posted comments with pictures of the column as it appeared in the printed edition of the paper and links to a cached version of the page.

“All Native Americans should celebrate Columbus Day, even if they have reservations about honoring Christopher Columbus himself,” Maier opines in the second column, arguing that the holiday should be seen less as a way to honor Columbus as an individual than as a commemoration of the Columbian Exchange, which dramatically enhanced standards of living in both the New and the Old Worlds through the introduction of food crops and technologies that had previously been unknown to one or the other.

The columns generated outrage among some minority-student groups, two of which sent letters to the paper’s editors demanding that they retract and apologize for both op-eds. In addition, the ultimatums called on the paper to take concrete steps toward improving the diversity of its staff and ensuring that offensive opinions are not published, threatening to initiate a boycott if the demands were not met.

According to an informal poll by The Providence Journal, however, there is also considerable opposition to the renaming of Columbus Day. As this article went to press, 382 votes had been cast, of which nine percent supported referring to the holiday as “Fall Weekend,” 10 percent favored “Indigenous People’s Day,” and a whopping 81 percent said the holiday should be referred to by its technical name, Columbus Day.

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