Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the number of Native American students at UTD. The Mercury regrets this error.
While some UTD students celebrated a recent Dallas City Council decision to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, others disagree with the change, citing an erasure of Italian history.
The resolution was placed on the voting agenda with a five-signature memo by councilmember Omar Narvaez and passed on Oct. 8. Narvaez said that the passing of the resolution would “right a wrong” for the Native Americans that originally populated America. Among the Native American leaders present during the vote was Leroy Pena, a member of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas and national director of the Red Handed Warrior Society, who approved of the change.
According to Fall 2018 data, the Native American population at UTD is 0.1%, which is about 28 students. Lauren Boggs, a biology junior, is one of the Native American students that make up that percentage.
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day was actually started by Indigenous people for Indigenous people. It was a form of protest for the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in the Caribbean,” Boggs said. “Most tribes don’t celebrate Columbus Day. They don’t even recognize it as a holiday. A lot of tribes opt to completely throw it out and celebrate their own tribal history and significant figures in their tribes.”
Boggs said that she supported the name change and that it was a step in addressing the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans that occurred as a result of Columbus’ arrival.
“We define Indigenous history into two eras: the Columbian Era and the Pre-Columbian Era. This is something that was a very definitive change in our history — it marked the beginning of eradication,” Boggs said. “I don’t think Columbus is the representative of American ideals — I don’t even think he’s the representative of Italian or Catholic ideals, which is kind of where this holiday originated from. I mean, he served as the first governor for the Indies and during that time, he mutilated and tortured indigenous people. He sold them into slavery. He murdered them.”
For Boggs, the name change meant having a voice. She said that it shifted the focus towards having pride for her Native American culture and the recovery of culture for many tribes.
“It’s a really powerful act of solidarity because not only does it legitimize the protests and movements for decolonization, but it also shows that there are people actually listening to what Native Americans want and what they believe is best for our cultures,” Boggs said. “I think changing this can help shift that narrative back to Native Americans telling our history, rather than white people telling Native American history.”
A student who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution or backlash told The Mercury that changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day takes away from overlooked groups such as Italian Americans celebrating Columbus Day as their heritage.
“Indigenous People’s Day seems a bit redundant when Native American heritage has an entire month, which is November,” he said. “I don’t like Columbus. He treated people like slaves. He literally tortured Native Americans. He wasn’t a good guy. So instead of celebrating him, it should be celebrated for what it currently is, and currently, Columbus Day is celebrated by a lot of Italian American communities as their day, their heritage. Irish have Saint Paddy’s. Native Americans have an entire month. Black culture has a month. And, so they like their little spot.”
The student said that the name change felt like the Dallas City Council was trying to quell outrage rather than focusing on what the day represented instead of the person it was named after.
“Columbus Day is, first and foremost, not exactly about Columbus. It was initially created to celebrate the anniversary of his landing in the Americas, more of a celebration of the unification between North America and the Americas and Europe,” he said. “So, I would say change Columbus Day to either the anniversary of the landing, or say something about — make it Discovery Day, or — people can come up with better names than I can. Or simply name it Italian American Heritage Day.”
The anonymous student said that the passing of the resolution was a lose-win situation.
“It shows that we’re still a democracy, first and foremost, because when enough people get mad, the governments go, ‘Hey, we should change something,’” he said. “However, I feel like in this case, they didn’t exactly change it in the way that accurately reflects all American values.”
Boggs said that the passing of the resolution resulted from looking at history critically and understanding that people negatively affected were asking for change.
“It allows us to have our own heritage, our own pride,” she said. “And it does provide the support from the community around us going, ‘We hear you, we recognize what has happened. Now let’s try and actually address this, heal it and figure out where to go from here.”