As much of America celebrated Columbus Day this past Monday, Goshen College juniors Anya Kreider and Sarah Hofkamp led a convocation event in honor of an alternate holiday: Indigenous People’s Day.
Renaming the day and thus shifting its focus is a growing national trend. At least nine cities across the US celebrated this holiday as a way of calling attention to the bloody history on which this nation was founded. Popular social media sites featured the hashtags “#indigenouspeoplesday” and “#abolishcolumbusday.”
In keeping with this rising movement, Kreider and Hofkamp used this day as a time to educate the GC community about the genocide of indigenous Americans and the ways in which false narratives in education and popular culture have covered up that genocide. According to Kreider, “The history that we learn is a white male straight history.”
As a step towards “unlearning what we’ve learned,” in Kreider’s words, Kreider and Hofkamp spent this past summer studying and working on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana. Together, they attended classes at the tribal college and volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club as an alternative to Goshen’s Study Service Term.
During the convocation, Kreider and Hofkamp shared a portion of the documentary “The Canary Effect,” a film made by indigenous people voicing their own stories. The film, which is available on YouTube, presents the international law definition of genocide point-by-point and explores how indigenous peoples in the US experienced each of these aspects at the hands of European colonists. According to author and activist Ward Churchill, who was interviewed in the film, “We’ve got a story to tell and it’s about time the rest of America heard it.”
Following the documentary viewing, the convocation audience was invited to join PJCS professor Joe Liechty’s Religion, Conflict and Peace class for further discussion. During this time, Hofkamp and Kreider led a discussion around themes of education, power, mission and privilege as they relate to the search for justice for indigenous peoples.
The group also discussed how easy it is for people in places of privilege to deny responsibility for the violence against indigenous Americans. Gloria Showalter, a recent GC graduate, called the group to “collective introspection” to reflect on the ways that we unintentionally benefit from the oppression of native peoples.
During the discussion, one of Hofkamp’s top priorities for Goshen College surfaced. As a Social Reform Club initiative, she hopes to create a petition demanding “institutional recognition of where [GC’s] land comes from and from whom it was taken.”
Hofkamp also suggests that steps be taken by individuals toward “educating ourselves so that we can educate our children and our communities.” She notes the relevance of this discussion to the broader Goshen community’s debate over the soon-to-be-retired Goshen High School Redskins mascot. “This is really affecting us and our perceptions of native peoples.”
Other discussion participants included junior Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus, who highlighted the communal “responsibility to learn these stories,” climate activist Jimmy Betts, who advocated a “listening-first mentality” when approaching relationship with indigenous people, and nearly fifteen others.