EDITOR’S COLUMN: Diversity and inclusion aren’t just buzzwords

I don’t think I should have to explain why we should no longer recognize Columbus Day in the United States. 

But in case you still haven’t realized how whitewashed our country’s history is, let me give you some background. 

The history of North America does not begin on Oct. 12, 1942. The land Christopher Columbus “discovered” was not some barren land, asking to be “civilized” by European men. There were established civilizations with millions of people in North and South America long before Europeans even had a thought of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. 

What happened after Columbus set foot in the Americas is tragic. Native Americans were forced into slavery, they were murdered, they were raped; they were seen as an obstacle to conquering new land, not as independent civilizations with unique traditions and cultures. Columbus had an agreement with the king and queen of Spain that would result in copious amounts of money for him if he completed his voyage and he exploited the Native Americans for his own personal gain. 

All this, not to mention the countless Native Americans who died from diseases brought over by the Europeans.  

Pocahantas wasn’t a Disney Princess, feel-good story. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, she was 11 or 12, and her real name was Amonute. The truth of the story of how she allegedly saved John Smith from her father is debated. Some historians believe Smith misinterpreted a ritual ceremony or made the entire story up. 

Historian Camilla Townsend hit the nail on the head when talking about why the Disney story of Pocahantas is still held on to. 

“That whole idea makes people in white American culture feel good about our history,” Townsend said. “That we were not doing anything wrong to the Indians but really were helping them and the ‘good’ ones appreciated it.” 

Our history is whitewashed, written by the victors, the conquerors and colonizers. The mistreatment of Native Americans has been perpetuated for centuries in America and if that isn’t offensive enough, we nationally recognize a holiday that only serves as a reminder of how this mistreatment began.  

We should be celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day across the United States, but at the very least, we should be celebrating it at Ferris. I’m so tired of our university preaching their core values that include collaboration and diversity, but not doing a single thing to back it up. 

It would be such a simple, yet meaningful thing to many of our students for Ferris to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. But our administrators hide behind the fact that Columbus Day is a nationally recognized holiday, and therefore they have it on our calendar instead of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and do not make efforts to hold events to honor that. 

We have faculty on campus who have pushed for this change. We have students on campus who grew up on reservations in Michigan, who practice indigenous cultures. Ferris recognizing Columbus Day instead of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a slap in the face to them. 

As students, we can become better citizens to everyone in our community by expanding our perspectives. I cannot express how valuable it is to learn about and expose yourself to other cultures. It’s incredibly eye-opening and it helps you realize that you aren’t the only person in this world. It helps you understand others’ experiences and make you a more empathetic person. 

Native Americans are one of the most disrespected groups in America. Their culture is constantly appropriated and imitated for the enjoyment of others. Sports teams across the country are named various versions of Native American and use simplistic, cartoonish figures of Native Americans as mascots. The Washington Football team finally this year changed their name from the “Redskins,” a term which used in any other race’s context would have been banned years ago.  

Indigenous Peoples in the United States have incredible cultures, and we should all learn more about them. We should celebrate those in our communities who practice these cultures and uplift them. Ferris needs to step up and do what is right and replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.