Native American students hope to shift the focus on Columbus Day

Wynne Davis

Rejecting the nationally recognized holiday of Columbus Day, the Native American and Indigenous Student Association celebrated Indigenous People’s Day on Monday with an event to raise awareness of the University’s Native American population.

The event, which took place at Gregory Gym, was planned with the goal of re-tooling the community’s perception of Christopher Columbus’ legacy, and the current state of indigenous people, according to Grant Williams, international relations and global studies senior and assembly representative.

Williams said Columbus is introduced to children in elementary school as a hero who saved and changed the world, but this does not reflect reality. 

“What I’m hoping for people to take away is the idea of recreating the history of this day, Columbus Day,” Williams said.

Williams said his goal is for people to realize Native American indigenous people still exist and have a thriving culture.

“[Native American communities are] taking Columbus Day and hoping to rewrite that history, just like on Thanksgiving Day,” Williams said. “A lot of native communities will call it ‘Thanks-taking Day,’ and they’ll kind of spin these national holidays around this idea of colonialism. They’ll kind of take this day and make it their own.”

Four Danza Mexica-Azteca performers danced and played traditional musical instruments, including a guitar made out of an armadillo, inside Gregory Gym and on the plaza.

“[The performers] do real sacred dances, so it’s not about what they look like and the music they make,” Williams said. “It’s about doing a dance for a purpose and to bless the space.”

Participants also had the opportunity to paint sugar turtles much like the sugar skulls painted during the Day of the Dead celebration.

Turtles signify creation stories in many indigenous cultures, as well as providing great value to the different cultures, said Alma Buena, government senior and club co-director.

“We’re hoping that by bringing turtles, we kind of allow students to realize that we’re not just dream catchers,” Buena said.

Attendees were able to speak with Native American elders and enjoy local Austin food. 

“I just really like the whole cultural atmosphere, the different functions that they have [and] the music and the explanations,” government freshman Mieola Easter said. “It’s been really enriching.”

The organization asked attendees to sign a petition for more recognition of Native American students at the University and asking for the University to officially recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous People’s Day.

For the past five years, the Indigenous People’s Day events have grown in size — and by consistently making its presence known, the organization is hoping for the University to make campus a more comfortable and safe place for these students, Buena said.

“I want the University of Texas at Austin to know there’s a lot of Native American students on campus, and we want to be seen and be visible,” Buena said.