The Indigenous Students’ Organization at Tufts held its annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration on Oct. 10. The event honored Indigenous culture and history with guest speakers, live performances and traditional Indigenous foods.
This year’s event is the first Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration since the creation of the Indigenous Center. Vernon Miller, director of the Indigenous Center, offered support to event organizers and was one of several guest speakers at the event.
Other guest speakers included Anthony Romero, a professor at the SMFA who identifies as Indigenous, and local activist Mahtowin Munro, co-leader of the United American Indians of New England. Munro has spoken at past Indigenous Peoples’ Day events at Tufts; this year she spoke about her work involving Indigenous and Palestinian solidarity.
Tsion Tessema, a first-year who does not identify as Indigenous, said the event broadened her understanding of Indigenous culture.
“I walked away thinking about the role that spirituality has played in [Indigenous] perseverance,” Tessema said.
The Turtle Island Singers, an intertribal singing and drumming group, and the Nettukkusqk Singers performed at the event. Catering was provided by the Sly Fox Den, a restaurant offering traditional Wampanoag food.
The Indigenous Peoples’ Celebration and other activities leading up to it were entirely student-coordinated and facilitated. ISOT council co-chair Hannah Norton applauded the dedication and hard work of their fellow council members, despite their lack of direct support from the Tufts administration.
“It shouldn't be down to the students to have to plan their own celebration. … We're spending so many hours a week for the beginning of our semesters to plan this celebration,” Norton said. “[Tufts] should be finding the funding for it.”
ISOT hopes that its continued advocacy and initiatives on campus will incentivize the university to further support the Indigenous population at Tufts.
“We want the university to care, and we want them to see that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is to celebrate the students they’re bringing in and the surrounding communities, and to recognize the original stewards of this land,” Norton said.
Prior to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, ISOT participated in an Orange Shirt Day gathering that took place in Boston on Sept. 30. Orange Shirt Day, also known as Truth and Reconciliation Day, is a Canadian national holiday also observed by many in the United States. It memorializes the thousands of lives lost to the residential school systems, which sought to forcibly integrate Indigenous North American children into Western culture.
“We mourned the children and we highlighted the Indigenous people that were standing there and were there to [represent] the survivors of the ancestors and people that did not make it,” Norton said.
Following the gathering, ISOT members painted the university cannon in honor of Orange Shirt Day, incorporating phrases such as “every child matters” and “there is no truth without reconciliation” in their artwork. ISOT hoped that by painting the canon, they could draw more attention to Orange Shirt Day and thus extend the mourning period for the children who died at boarding houses.
“Remembrance and mourning isn't just exclusive to [Sept.] 30th … it should be remembered for many days after and all year round,” Norton said.
ISOT council member Angel Cruz-Salvador said that advocacy for the reconciliation of Indigenous genocide and the celebration of the Indigenous people do not need to be mutually exclusive.
“While also acknowledging a lot of the atrocities … that have happened to Indigenous people, we also want to celebrate Indigenous people who are here with us,” Cruz-Salvador said. “Happiness can be a form of protest.”
After the culmination of Indigenous Peoples’ Day events, ISOT hopes to continue to provide a comfortable environment for Indigenous students to feel welcome and celebrated, including programming for Native American Heritage Month in November.
Following the creation of the Indigenous center, Cruz-Salvador holds a positive outlook on the future of Indigenous awareness on campus.
“We recently created a freshman council so that we [can] continue to develop strong foundations for when leaders transition and [ensure] that ISOT has a successful future beyond us,” Cruz-Salvador said.