SRJC Celebrates Indigenous People’s Day

Courtney Paige, Contributing Writer

Santa Rosa Junior College replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day Oct. 12, proving the past can in fact change and history can be recreated.

Organizers said the time has come to demystify the history of Christopher Columbus and educate the SRJC community about how the past really went down. “We see it to be the duty of educational institutions to promote the fearless discussion of uncomfortable truths,” said event leader Erika Hernandez. “These truths include the invasion, conquest, genocide and environmental destruction of indigenous lands and indigenous people.”

Juan Arias, project director of the college’s Hispanic Serving Institution, said, “I remember as a young boy growing up in Mexico, Christopher Columbus was engrained into the fabric of our society. Columbus Day was a holiday; we celebrated it. It was like that.” Arias said. “It just wasn’t part of the conversation. We didn’t know to look deeper into the truth of this particular part of history.”

The SRJC celebratory resolution ceremony was held under the campus’ 250-year-old oak trees, an area where Pomo tribes were known to roam. Tribes from Pomo, Wappo, and Coast Miwok attended, yet all tribes were welcomed and attributed. Attendees listened to the beat of the drums and watched the beauty of the traditional dance.

Joining Santa Rosa Junior College in this endeavor are other colleges and universities, including University of California Berkeley, Sacramento State University and Stanford University.

Other cities in the United States, including Albuquerque, New Mexico and Minneapolis, Minnesota are undergoing similar changes. Superintendent, President, Dr. Frank Chong said in his address to the audience, “What took so long? Colleges are about inclusion, not exclusion.”

Bill Means, founder of the International Indian Council Treaty, veteran of the Vietnam War and activist for the American Indian Movement (AIM) spoke at the event. Mean was a lead activist in 1977 when he and his group addressed the United Nations regarding discrimination in the United States.

He began his speech with a traditional native greeting, “Hello my relatives. Today is a good day,” he said. “The hearts of our people are strong and we extend our hand in friendship. Be encouraged that you do not stand alone.”

Means said we need to straighten out a few myths of history. “For example,” he said, “we discovered Columbus, who washed up on our shores sick, destitute and wrapped in rags.”

Colonialism thanked the indigenous people with racism, genocide and relocation, Means said. The audience agreed with his remarks by sounding an indigenous peoples’ traditional oooh’s.

Closing the digital divide is also on the side of replacing Columbus Day. “Social media is going to be a huge part of creating awareness of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution petition,” said Rai Zaragoza, SRJC Student Senator and VP of Advocacy. “Our goal is community outreach in all North Bay cities.”

Cami Lewton, a mother of three girls, said, “I came to the event because I want my children to be exposed to this event. Today we are part of something larger than us.”

An indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution petition was available to sign. If you weren’t able to attend the ceremony and would like to sign the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution petition, contact Zaragoza at [email protected].