For the first time, Virginia Tech is joining other schools, cities and states in officially celebrating ‘Indigenous People’s Day’ every year on the second Monday in October.
There will be programs, speakers and activities offering a new look at American history, through the eyes of a culture that has witnessed all of it.
Indigenous People's Day offers a different perspective on the story of the land we now call America; a reverse shot on the ‘discovering America’ image that's long been the dominant narrative. Melissa Faircloth is director of the American Indian and Indigenous People's Community Center at Virginia Tech. For many people, the idea of celebrating Indigeneous People's Day as Americans also celebrate Columbus Day is a new concept. To that, Faircloth says, when it comes to the story of Christopher Columbus, “I always like to ask people something like this: 'If somebody walks into your house, but you're already there, are they discovering your house?' Because there were millions of people already on the continent.” Her point is that this notion of discovery is ‘quite false.'
Faircloth is writing her dissertation on the detrimental effects of this kind of misinformation about native Americans that, when repeated over and over, becomes demoralizing to people who identify as part of the culture. “People have asked me throughout my trajectory, as a Native American, ‘You got everything for free, right? The government pays for everything' or 'You got all of your education paid for.'" But Faircloth points out, "It’s one thing to just not be aware, but to speak with an authority, like you already know the answer” that is problematic.
Faircloth's reserch is exploring how comments like these affect mental health and social wellbeing. "And so, celebrating Indigeneous People's Day at Virginia Tech" for the first time "is about "educating, it's (about) creating that counter discourse, in getting people to critically think about these issues. It is also about telling an accurate story of native peoples and the things they've endured, and that they're persisting in. They're still here."
Indigenous People's Day is October 14th. There will be events at Virginia Tech including speakers, film and food highlighting native culture over the next several weeks. For details click here.
***Editor's Note: Radio IQ is a service of Virginia Tech.