By Oluwatomike Adeboyejo
On Feb. 8, the Student Government Association joined the nationwide movement to recognize Christopher Columbus Day as Native American Indians Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day by passing S 17-02-01-A.
The bill, otherwise known as “A Resolution Urging the Administration of the University of Maryland to Acknowledge Christopher Columbus Day as Native American Indian Day,” was favored by 21 legislatures, opposed by eight and three legislatures preferred not to participate.
According to S 17-02-01-A, the bill will “honor the history of Native American Indians” by recognizing them as the founders of America. The bill stands against the controversial idea that Columbus was the first to discover America.
During the deliberation of the bill, major points were brought up by several student organizations and legislatures. Supporters of the bill argued Columbus should not be praised as the explorer who found America because his actions led to the genocide of thousands. Many believe he assisted in the exploitation and colonization of Native American Indians.
“Christopher Columbus is not someone that should be celebrated,” said junior Sara Eshera. “He took over people’s land and took people’s home. He is the reason that indigenous history has been erased, and the fact that we still have a day commemorating him is ridiculous. Imagine how it makes indigenous students feel.”
The bill’s supporters strongly outnumbered their opponents. The gallery of the hearing was occupied by students from the American Indian Student Union, Community Roots, the Muslim Student Association, Protect UMD, the Asian American Student Association and many more. Over 80 students attended the hearing.
Karla Casique, the president of the American Indian Student Union and writer for The Writer’s Bloc, gave one the most compelling arguments of the night. She challenged the Student Government Association to promote diversity and inclusion within the community by changing the name of Christopher Columbus Day.
She conveyed the limitations of indigenous and the lack of support from the University of Maryland by making an analogy to American Indian Student Union and funding from SGA. Casique conveyed how indigenous students pay for the same resources as other students, but due to their low level of representation on campus, they have limited access to SGA funding. She plead with SGA to not ignore the voices of minorities on campus.
Students rallied behind the American Indian Student Union and showed support through signs and gestures to establish their stance.
Though the hearing was full of those supporting the bill, legislators, such as Caroline Larkin, boldly argued against the bill. During the hearing, Larkin argued the name of the day should not change because Columbus technically did not take anything from Native Americans. According to Larkin, the Native American Indian tradition says Native American Indians cannot own land; therefore, no one took anything from them.
Kevin Johnson, the North Hill representative, also opposed the bill because he believes, like many others, that changing Columbus Day will be taking away from history.
“I think there is a fine line between erasing history and doing what is right for all communities,” he said. I think we need to be careful on where we tread on that line. I don’t think we should change the day. We should add another day or make it exploration day. [We should do] something to acknowledge both sides of it.”
However, now that the bill has been passed by SGA, it is left to the Senate or Administration to pass the change.
Featured Photo Credit: A supporter of the bill holds a sign to stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples. (Oluwatomike Adeboyejo /Bloc Reporter)
Oluwatomike Adeboyejo is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.