Mel Pardock – Staff Writer
As a school built on Dakota land, Gustavus is taking steps to strengthen its relationship with and invest in local Dakota communities. In an email sent to the student body on September 24, President Rebecca Bergman announced the creation of the President’s Council for Indigenous Relations, which will convene later this month, showcasing the steps our community is taking to recognize and respect the history and importance of our local Indigenous communities.
Every year on the second Monday of October, people in the United States observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday that celebrates and honors the history, culture, and historical contributions of Native American individuals. The holiday also emphasizes the fact that thousands of Native Americans were displaced and decimated by European explorers that reached the continent, most notably Christopher Columbus. This year, 2021, marked the first year that the holiday was recognized by the President of the United States, with President Joe Biden issuing a proclamation from the White House a few days before the holiday.
“Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to. That is especially true when it comes to upholding the rights and dignity of the Indigenous people who were here long before colonization of the Americas began,” President Biden said.
Some may wonder why it is important to celebrate this holiday. They may wonder, “Well, what about Columbus Day?,” which happened to fall on the same day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year. In short, it is important and vital to remember and reinforce the fact that people lived, made families, built homes, and developed communities on this land long before it was” discovered” by Europeans.
In short, it is important and vital to remember and reinforce that people lived, made families, built homes, and developed communities on this land long before it was” discovered” by Europeans.
“The name Minnesota itself is derived from an Indigenous word. We have so many counties and cities named after Native American tribes and words, and few people actually know why they have these names or their significance. They know the white history, but not the Indigenous history. This holiday is important because we need to understand that white individuals were not the first people here, and there are marginalized people who deserve to have their history not only learned, but respected,” said senior Dylan Berg, who spent this past summer researching the impact of the expulsion of Native Americans, mostly focused on the Mdewakanton Dakota people, and their interactions with European settlers upon the area that is now St. Peter alongside former Gustavus professor Misti Harper.
“Together, we have continued to listen to Dakota scholars, elders, and leaders, and paid attention to the intersection of the College’s founding and the forced removal of Dakota people from their homelands in Southern Minnesota following the Dakota-U.S. War in 1862. It is clear to me that we all still have a lot to learn, that we are asking good questions about these histories and what they mean for us today, and that we have willing organizational and Native partners here in our region. Based on all of these conversations, and in response to the sincere and growing interest on campus in addressing this history and building relationships with Dakota communities, I have decided to form a presidential council for Indigenous relations,” President Bergman said.
While Gustavus has already taken measures to build relationships between our community and local Dakota communities, more can be done to make for a more just, understanding community. This past summer, Chaplain Siri Erickson, alongside some Gustavus professors, attended some Dakota events and spoke to tribe members about their experiences and thoughts, most notably where we can go from here.
“There were three themes I noticed while speaking with Dakota individuals this summer regarding what more we as a community can do. The first one being that we need to take the responsibility to educate ourselves and those around us on this history. The second theme I observed is that Native Americans want us to know that they are still here – they are our relatives. While it’s important to focus on the history, it’s also important to focus on getting to know each other and building relationships now. Third, we must work together to create a more just and equal world for not only ourselves, but for the planet as well. It is important to note that we cannot assume what our Dakota community wants us to do, we must ask,” Erickson said.
As Indigenous Peoples’ Day gains more recognition and attention, more and more Gusties argue that we as a campus must note that while it is important to have these days, the history, culture, and contributions of Indigenous people are always to be shared, learned, respected, and honored.