Events mark Indigenous Peoples Day

An 1838 map of the Oregon Territory.

Indigenous Peoples Day is being celebrated on the Pullman campus Oct. 11 with several events including a film screening and an address from a prominent Native American author and poet. 

WSU began celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in 2018. A resolution passed by the Graduate and Professional Students Association called for Columbus Day to be replaced with an opportunity to “actively encourage the student population to remember the colonial legacy of the United States federal government’s policies and practices on Indigenous communities and seek to understand the strength and hope of Indigenous communities today.”

Indigenous Peoples Day became officially recognized on the second Monday of October following a proclamation by WSU President Kirk Schulz.

This year’s events begin at 9 a.m. with a Tipi assembling demonstration on Todd Steps, which is also where the Native American Student Center will be staffing a table and where passersby can play “Indigenous Trivia.” A drum group will also be gathering at Todd Steps at 10 a.m.

A light luncheon at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center will be followed by a keynote address from Kimberly Blaeser, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and MFA faculty for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Blaeser’s speech begins at noon and will be streamed, with a link soon-to-be available on the WSU Women’s Center website.

At 4 p.m., the cultural center will also host a screening of “Exterminate all the Brutes,” a documentary series directed by Raoul Peck. The series deconstructs the making and masking of history and digs deep into the exploitative and genocidal aspects of European colonialism. A trailer is available online.

Past and present members of the WSU Vancouver Native American Community Advisory Board will be hosting an Indigenous Peoples Day forum inside Room 129 of the Dengerink Administration building beginning at 1:30 p.m. The event will also be broadcast via Zoom. The Vancouver campus is hosting talks pertaining to native and indigenous communities on issues of environmental justice and food equity throughout the month of October. More information is available online.

Asked what Indigenous Peoples Day means to her, Professor Zoe Higheagle Strong, executive director of tribal relations and special assistant to the provost, recalled a phrase in the traditional Nez Perce language nimipuutímt—’itúu wic’et’ipéecwise. She held onto the phrase after listening to a relative, Angel Sobotta, tell one of their tribe’s traditional stories connected to a sacred place above the Clearwater River.

“First, celebrating Indigenous people means to recognize that our knowledge systems, learning and sense of responsibility has a deep connection to land, or ‘wéetes’,” she said. “Second, this phrase means ‘What do you wish/want to become?’ Our motivation for college and careers is deeply rooted in our responsibility to care for our land, tribe and all of our relations. Life is more about who we become as a human being than what have we accomplished.” 

Indigenous People’s Day is being celebrated on the Pullman campus Oct. 11 with several events including a film screening and an address from a prominent Native American author and poet.

In celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, Higheagle Strong asks members of the WSU community to consider the question of ’itúu wic’et’ipéecwise —who do they wish to become.

WSU Provost and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton noted, “As a land grant institution established as part of the Morrill Act of 1862, we need to acknowledge our historical connection to the dispossession of Indigenous lands. Commemorating Indigenous Peoples Day is one small part of a larger institutional commitment to Native peoples in the present.”

Higheagle Strong agrees.

“WSU strives to provide meaningful education, research, and work that benefits the wellbeing of Washington residents and the land. As leaders of this institution, we will take a moment to think about our ongoing responsibility to recognize the settler-colonial history of our university and address the ways in which colonial practices continue today. As a university community, we must advocate for tribal sovereignty and continue to build meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities,” Higheagle Strong said.

Indigenous Peoples Day events are made possible thanks to the efforts of regional tribal partners, Native American Programs, Native American Student Center, Asian American and Pacific Islander Student Center, and the Native American Health Sciences. WSU also acknowledge our Indigenous student organizations for their outstanding leadership—Native Student organizations, Hui Hau’oli O’ Hawai’i (Hawaii Club), and the Pacific Islanders Club.

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