October 11, 2021

A message from School of Social Work Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Val Kalei Kanuha

President Biden has just declared October 11 a national holiday to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Modern-day controversy about Christopher Columbus as the “discoverer” of the Americas culminated in delegates at the 1990 International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas proposing that the United States replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The city of Berkeley, California, was the first in the nation to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, in protest of quincentennial celebrations of Columbus' arrival in the Americas.

The observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not intended as an affront to Columbus’ achievements or Italian American contributions to the history of the United States. 

Instead, we honor the resilience of Indigenous peoples around the world who have persevered despite displacement, genocide and pandemics caused by foreign incursion and colonization. Instead, we claim this day to celebrate Native people, their cultures, their land stewardship and their often-unacknowledged contributions to governing structures, literature, art, science, food sustainability and other values and practices that are now commonplace in our country.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a time of remembrance, reflection and honoring. For many of us who are descendants of first peoples, we take this day to express gratitude for our ancestors, who have watched over us for many generations. 

We use this time to learn something new about our own people and of those Native people from the lands and places where we currently reside, and through which we have passed in our travels, in our work and in our dreams. 

And on this day, we also commit to acting purposefully each and every day to advocate for justice on behalf of Indigenous peoples everywhere who continue to live daily with the vestiges of white male supremacy and colonization.

In closing, I would like to share this thought: Kapu Aloha is a multidimensional concept and practice inspired by our kupuna. It places a discipline of compassion on all to express aloha for those involved, especially those who are perceived to be polar to our cause. A Kapu Aloha helps us intentionalize our thoughts, words and deeds without harm to others. It honors the energy and life found in aloha—compassion—and helps us focus on its ultimate purpose and meaning. It is a synonym for ahimsa, nonviolence and peaceful consciousness. [Source: Manulani Aluli Meyer, EdD, Director of Indigenous Education, University of Hawaiʻi West-Oʻahu, April 13, 2015]

Related UW event:

“Indigenizing” the University of Washington: Lessons from the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Intellectual HouseAssociate Professor Charlotte Coté, Dept. of American Indian Studies—Oct. 13, 2021 at 7 p.m.