Fall Weekend changed to Indigenous People’s Day

On the afternoon of February 2, the faculty voted to change the name of the Monday of Fall Weekend to Indigenous People’s Day.

This vote came after months of controversy surrounding op-ed publications by the Brown Daily Herald. Resistance to these publications culminated in a die-in protest on the Main Green organized by Native Americans at Brown (NAB) in October of last semester. However, Floripa Olguin ’16, one of the coordinators of the die-in protest and a member of NAB was quick to point out that this vote was about far more than the Herald publications.

“The significance of a name speaks to the historical legacy of Brown,” she said. “Centering the dialogue on Indigenous People’s Day speaks to Brown’s ability to learn from the past and move into the future. A lot of people have criticized us by saying that we are trying to erase history, but I think we are trying to broaden [the campus’] view of that time in history.”

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Students call for renaming of Fall Weekend to Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Today at noon, over 200 demonstrators gathered on the Main Green to stand in solidarity with indigenous people and urge the administration to officially change the name of Fall Weekend to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Native American students, faculty, and community members wore their people’s traditional regalia and others attending in solidarity wore red and black to commemorate the day. 

The event began with members of Native Americans at Brown (NAB) introducing themselves, speaking in their respective indigenous languages and English, and welcoming the protestors. The organizers of the demonstration, Sierra Edd ’18, Kara Roanhorse ’18 and Phoebe Young ’17, spoke about the purpose of the event and of NAB. Young said Native Americans at Brown exists “first and foremost to provide support for Native students on campus.” The demonstration also included calls to sign a petition asking the administration to rename Fall Weekend to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Over the course of two hours, demonstrators gave speeches celebrating the resistance and resilience of indigenous people in America and discussing their hopes for the future. The leaders of the demonstration performed the Pequot Flag Song and led the crowd in a round dance before marching and chanting through campus to President Christina Paxson P’19’s house.

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While the relevance and significance of this demonstration was felt strongly on campus due to the events of last week, the movement for Indigenous Peoples’ Day is occurring nationwide. Edd stated that Native Americans at Brown have been planning this event long before last week, and that she felt the need for more awareness and support from Brown as early as the first day of school. Their intention is that the university will dedicate space and institutional support to native and indigenous people at Brown. In Floripa Olguin ’16‘s words, this in part means “institutionalized recruitment,” particularly of the Wompanoag and Naragansett tribes, as Brown’s campus itself exists within their tribal lines.

NAB’s hope is that the Brown community can use this demonstration as an opportunity for change and historical accountability. Olguin encourages us, as academics, to take on the “learning that is needed for growth, even if it is very different than folks are used to.”

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Die-in protest: Native Americans at Brown pre-demonstration

At 2:00 p.m today, October 9th, students dressed in red and black gathered in front of Sayles Hall on the Main Green. They laid down on the concrete for 52 minutes and 30 seconds, with still bodies and resolute intentions. Their actions paid tribute to the 523 years of resistance in the Indigenous Peoples community of the Americas. Their silence resonated as passersby made their way to class, with strong wind being the only audible noise, occasionally disturbing the cardboard signs.

When asked for the statement, Sierra Edd ’18, one of the members of Native Americans at Brown said, “We, collectively as NAB, feel that the BDH had many chances to consider not including Monday and Tuesday’s columns in their paper. In including them, there were powerful and painful implications for many students. Their formal apology is not enough; we ask for structural changes and a preventive action in the future.”

The die-in protest was a pre-demonstration for the event scheduled for Monday, October 12th, which will be a celebration of Indigenous Peoples, in the hopes that Brown renames Fall Weekend. Below is a visual record of the event:

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Why we call this weekend “Fall Weekend”

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On April 7, 2009, Brown’s faculty voted to rename the annual holiday on the second Monday in October “Fall Weekend.” The vote was made at one of the faculty’s regular monthly meetings; under the rules of Brown’s governance, all decisions regarding the academic calendar are made by an all-faculty vote. Then-President, Ruth Simmons, and other university administrators were not involved in the decision, while then-chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, James Drier, professor of Philosophy, abstained from the vote.

In their statement released the next day, the Committee noted that, “since fall 2008, faculty, staff and student committees at Brown have discussed proposals to eliminate the formal observance of Columbus Day. Following much discussion, the vote was not unanimous, reflecting the difficulty and complexity of this sensitive and symbolic issue.”

Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937 to honor the supposed discoverer of America. His 1492 landing in the Bahamas marked the beginning of European colonization of the Americas, which would result in the death of entire indigenous populations within forty years, due to disease and warfare. Columbus’ history of genocide has in many ways been erased from our societal narrative, marginalizing many communities. Although Brown faced some criticism in the media following the renaming in 2009, many schools and even cities have made similar decisions.

While the faculty ultimately made the decision to rename the holiday, the movement and strong desires that propelled that decision came from within the student body. “A small group of students who wanted the University to stop recognizing Columbus Day” worked on a project not unlike the sort we see on campus today; recognizing that there was a problem with a celebration named after Columbus, they engaged in months of dialogue with university administrators and faculty.

Although the students initially asked that Brown instead give off another Monday of the month, it was decided that Fall Weekend would coincide with the national holiday to better accommodate the faculty and staff with children in local schools. The Herald poll from the time indicated that “the majority of Brown students disapproved of continuing to call the holiday Columbus Day.”

This brief history lesson hopes to provide information on how we as a university and community came to refer to next weekend as “Fall Weekend.” For many, it may be a surprise how recent a change that was, or the work that past students and some current faculty put into making it happen. On Monday, there will be a demonstration on the Main Green hosted by the Native Americans at Brown with the goal of having the holiday renamed “Indigenous Peoples Day.” BlogDailyHerald will be providing coverage of the protest next week.

While everyone on campus may not support the desires of some students on campus to rename Fall Weekend, we as publication think the topic deserves due coverage. The BlogDailyHerald of Wesleyan, Wesleying, published a post earlier this year called “Responsibility and Inclusion in the Argus and on Wesleying.” The article, which is definitely worth a read, makes the point that campus publications have a responsibility to the students they attempt to represent and report to. “Publications are not mere platforms for discussion, they are institutions that make choices.”

BlogDailyHerald is, of course, not immune to making mistakes in neglecting topics that are relevant to underrepresented communities on campus, and in publishing content that does not properly represent the entire student body whom we hope to serve. As a campus life publication, we need to work hard to make sure we are providing content that speaks to all areas of campus life. We want to acknowledge our commitment to this responsibility.