Indigenous People’s Day and UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center

Indigenous People’s Day formally recognizes, if only for one day, the struggles and injustices native people have continued to endure since settlers first took their land. Celebrating native people rather than Christopher Columbus continues the conversation surrounding how negative effects of colonization can still be seen in the present day. 

The idea to replace Columbus Day began in 1977, when a delegation of Native Nations introduced the idea and then passed in the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. Despite their efforts, it was not until July 1990 that representatives from 120 Indian nations agreed to organize within their communities to transform the former Columbus Day. According to Shannon Speed, Indigenous People’s Day  seeks to “strengthen our [Native American] process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation.”

In 1992, the city of Berkeley, California officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, setting the stage for what would become a more nationally recognized holiday. Since then, the city celebrates the holiday with a free powwow — a cultural celebration typically including dancing and singing as a daylong event — organized by the local Native community and non-Indigenous residents.

In September of 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that the city would no longer celebrate Columbus Day and instead formally recognize it as Indigenous People’s Day. While this may have come as a shock to devoted Italian-Americans wishing to commemorate Columbus, Los Angeles was committed to shifting the holiday’s focus to reveal the oppressions and injustices indigenous people have faced and celebrate “indigenous resilience.”  

In order to continue the recognition of Indigenous People’s Day on campus, UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center (AISC) hosted a pop-up event on Monday, October 14th. At the event, students who passed by were offered free Native fry bread made by the people of Wildhorse Cafe, while also learning more about the history of Indigenous People’s Day. The AISC also had a table out with faculty available to further discuss the center and the department in more detail. Handouts on the center, future events, and print copies of the Native Bruin were available at the table and on their website. 

The American Indian Studies Center was founded in 1969 with a dedicated staff committed to addressing American Indian Issues and supporting the native community on campus. The center works closely with highly influential scholars who write and teach in American Indian Studies, which has led UCLA to be highly ranked and respected in the academic field

Since its original founding, the center and its Interdepartmental Programs’s faculty have created a B.A., minor, and J.D/M.A in American Indian Studies. The American Indian Studies Center has made itself a fundamental source of academic support for students in the department. The center not only provides a space for students to come and work on their academics, but holds many events in which students are able to celebrate themselves, their ancestors, and their culture. 

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