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NMU board endorses Indigenous Peoples’ Day

A move last week by the Northern Michigan University Board of Trustees to publicly endorse an Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on campus may have appeared to casual observers like a housekeeping kind of item, something that might fall into “Other Business” on the board’s agenda.

It most certainly wasn’t.

In a unanimous vote, the board agreed to set up a committee to collaborate with NMU’s Center for Native American Studies, the Native American Student Association and ASNMU student government to finalize celebration activities and dates by the July board meeting, a Mining Journal story on the issue detailed.

Committee members include board Vice Chairwoman Tami Seavoy, chair; and trustees Steve Young, Donna Murray-Brown and Alexis Hart.

“It’s extremely important as a board that we’re formally recognizing inclusion and excited to be part of a committee working with the university to look at that,” Hart said in the article.

The celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day — the second Monday of October — butts up against the marking of Columbus Day on the same day. Increasingly across the nation, although certainly not everywhere, the role that Columbus played in what happened to indigenous people in what would become the United States has fallen into disfavor.

To many Indigenous Peoples’ Day activists, Columbus ushered in the systematic extermination of whole cultures, from sea to shining sea. Millions died and untold numbers of others were driven onto reservations, into boarding schools and stripped of their religion and language.

Supporters of Columbus Day opine, meanwhile, he was an explorer in the employ of the king of Spain and should not be held responsible, for example, for what the U.S. government did to the Great Plains tribes in the 19th century.

These are, of course, simplified versions of both arguments. Libraries and online sites hold much more information, if readers are of a mind. As far as the NMU board goes, however, it appears they’re done quite a lot of research on the topic and will likely do even more as time goes. The action they took, however, puts the panel on the right side of history, we believe.

History itself cannot be changed but it can be recognized for what it was. Colonization was a brutal process. That cannot and should not be denied.