While celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, members of the Fresno State Native American community asked the campus to cut any ties to Columbus Day.
Members of the group took turns at the Free Speech Area on Oct. 14 speaking for about an hour, sharing statistics, personal accounts and experiences and discussing the importance of visibility and recognition of Native American people and their culture.
Christian Sorondo, a Fresno State student and member of the student club NEUM Native American Student Association, spoke about how the current narrative in the U.S. focuses on the stories of colonialists while ignoring those who are indigenous to the land.
“The way of thinking, of not acknowledging indigenous ways of life, it is a product of settler colonialism. And I think it affects every single one of us, everyone here,” Sorondo said. “So for us to not acknowledge those struggles, it’s a disservice to ourselves.”
Columbus Day, Sorondo said, celebrates “the conqueror” in the narrative of American history and overlooks and dismisses the Native Americans whose land was taken and whose people were subjugated and killed.
The president of NEUM, Bryce Herrera, said that Fresno State and much of Fresno is founded on the land of American Indian tribes, specifically the Yokuts and Mono tribes.
Herrera said the aim of the gathering was to motivate university leadership to initiate a change in its recognition of Columbus Day.
“We hope to reconvene at a later date and to work on a formal proclamation that will call on the leadership of student body President Omar Hernandez, the Associated Students, Inc., the associated student senate to dissolve all ties between Christopher Columbus and California State University, Fresno,” Herrera said.
Although students, staff and faculty did not get a day off on Oct. 14, Fresno State officially recognizes Columbus Day on Dec. 30. The university defers observance of Lincoln’s Birthday, Admissions Day and Columbus Day until the end of the year so that the campus can be closed the last week of December.
Dr. Leece Lee-Oliver, professor in the women’s studies department at Fresno State and advisor of NEUM, spoke about what it meant for her to grow up as a person of Native American descent and see American holidays celebrated that represented devastation to her ancestors.
“I knew exactly who I was as a child. I knew I was a Native American,” Lee-Oliver said. “Any time that you have a holiday that celebrates the conqueror, there are people who are going to be hurt in the process of that.”
Lee-Oliver said that recognizing the contributions of all people is good for the nation and helps to keep Americans mindful and humble of the origins of their country.
Lee-Oliver also noted that among the work being done at Fresno State to recognize native culture, there are currently 12 native languages being preserved by the linguistics department.
Another issue that was raised and cited as an example of how systematic discrimination still occurs in America was the use of blood quantum in determining who is identified as being of Native American descent.
“For the United States government to determine what an Indian is or how much percent you are based on blood quantum, is to reduce them to animals,” Sorondo said. “This is used as a way for the United States government to separate a people and turn them against one another.”
Sorondo said that as what the American government considers “real” American Indian bloodlines become more diluted, it will use the absence of what it defines as “real” American Indians to nullify existing treaties with the native people.
The movement to no longer recognize Columbus Day and instead celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not unique to Fresno State. Other institutions, including Fresno City College, have formally adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Herrera said he is also part of an inter-campus organization that is currently working to call attention to the movement across all of the California State University systems.