Student senate approves Columbus Day name change


Brian Bauer

Student body president Ron Lewis addresses the student senate. The last meeting under the current administration was on Wednesday, April 12.

By Gillian Dunlop, Staff Writer

While some simply associate Columbus Day with a day off of school or western exploration, for sophomore in FAA Thereza Lituma Columbus Day represents the genocide of thousands of Native Americans and Indigenous peoples.

The Native American and Indigenous Student Organization, NAISO, which Lituma is president of, started a petition to change the name on campus from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s day to promote indigenous culture and inclusion.

This petition was then picked up by Illinois Student Senate Vice President-internal Spencer Haydary and turned into a student senate resolution for action, which was subsequently passed by the senate.

“It was an amazing idea,” Haydary said. “(The petition) talked about how it might be a step in the right direction in promoting cultural inclusivity, especially on a campus where traditionally it has not been very welcoming to indigenous students.”

The idea began with an event NAISO held during the second week of October. They welcomed students and community members to view the 2011 film entitled Columbus Day Legacy. After the showing, NAISO and the attendees held a discussion about why Columbus Day still exists and how changing the name can help the community.

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    “We decided that we wanted to do something on Columbus Day against Columbus Day,” Lituma said. “Indigenous People’s Day is something that is happening across the nation and it’s important to bring to the University.”

    During NAISO’s presentation at the senate meeting, not all senators were in support of the name change, most notably Vice President-external Alex Villanueva.

    “As a student of history and someone whose family is Spanish, I don’t see (Columbus Day) as a ‘hooray we killed all the Indians day.’ I see it as a day to recognize our roots and how Europeans came to the New World and made the New World what it is today,” Villanueva said.

    A common argument against the name change is that Columbus Day celebrates Italian heritage, but to the members of NAISO, this particular Italian is not one to be celebrated.

    “There are a lot of really wonderful Italian historical figures in art, philosophy and history,” Lituma said. “Columbus was not one of those people.”

    The point of Indigenous People’s Day is to celebrate the culture of indigenous people instead of recognizing a historical figure who committed violent acts and did not actually discover America, Haydary said.

    Another argument people make is that Native American Heritage Day already exists on the day after Thanksgiving.

    Yet the day after Thanksgiving is more commonly known as Black Friday, so attention is focused on stores having cheap deals. Lituma said the average student doesn’t know about Native American Heritage Day and students who do recognize the holiday cannot celebrate at the cultural houses because the University is closed.

    But Lituma remains hopeful that a bigger change regarding Columbus Day will occur.

    “(The change) is about Illinois and the board of trustees taking initiatives and having them on the right side of history,” she said. “As a native student, it would mean so much to me to have the university do this.”