Chebon Kernell, the keynote speaker at the panel discussion, said he was in awe of how indigenous perspectives were brought into the world of academics.
“Events in history are presented as a ‘that’s just how it is’ or ‘it’s God’s will’,” he said. Growing up in Oklahoma, he said people like him were dehumanized by their histories.
He asked Monday’s audience: “What would it look like to recognize the true history and challenge the meaning of Columbus Day?”
Dr. Theresa Gaul of the Department of English and Women and Gender Studies and Dr. Scott Langston of the Religion Department organized the event. It was sponsored by an Instructional Grant and the AddRan College of Liberal Arts.
To mark the occasion, a teepee nearly 24 feet high and 18 feet wide was set up in the Campus Commons. Its owner, Carl Kurtz, is a TCU alumni and employee and a member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi Nation.
After a panel discussion, dancers of the Tribal Traditions Arts and Education group presented traditional dances to the beat of Comanche Thunder drummers.
Kernell is a citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and executive secretary for Native American and Indigenous Ministries of the General Board of Global Ministries for the United Methodist Church.
The panel discussion also featured Peggy Larney, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, who said the U.S. is a model for eliminating indigenous people.
“Columbus Day needs to be abolished,” Larney added.
Brian Larney, Peggy’s son and a Choctaw/Seminole artist, said that “students around here don’t have that many Native American friends so they don’t see the need to assist.”
“Indigenous people don’t see Columbus Day as something to celebrate” said Gaul, an organizer of the event. Many Native Americans and indigenous people are calling for a reframing of the holiday to more accurately convey history and share cultural sensitivity.
Oklahoma University began observing Indigenous People’s Day last year with a symposium similar to TCU’s. This grassroots movement is finding its way throughout the nation, Gaul said. Both Seattle and Minneapolis have accepted petitions to change the name of the holiday.
Kernell said Oklahoma, a state created for indigenous people, is the stage for irony. Twice a petition was written to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day and twice it was denied.
Edyka Chilomé, an activist of diasporic indigenous descent, noted the legacy of violence that has come from Columbus Day.
“Many of us come from indigenous people who have been displaced,” she said.