UCLA law students rally to end Columbus Day

About 25 UCLA students rallied Monday on the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas to protest historical violence toward and colonization of indigenous peoples in America.

The rally, organized by the Native American Law Students Association, calls for the replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, which celebrates the culture and legacy of Native Americans and rejects the idea of Columbus as an honorable figure.

The resistance movement against Columbus Day has existed for more than a century.

Many critics say that the holiday symbolizes the celebration of the colonization, enslavement and killing of Native Americans during Columbus’ time and as more settlers arrived in the Americas.

Currently, 16 states in the United States do not recognize Columbus Day as a holiday. California is not among them. Berkeley is believed to be the first city in the country to officially change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day in 1992.

In the law school courtyard, protesters shared their grievances about the celebration of Columbus Day, reciting essays and poems about the history of the Native Americans after Columbus’ arrival, in what they called a demonstration of “indigenous resistance.”

In particular, participants at the rally said they think the American education system has been a major culprit in contributing to what they call a “white-dominant” narrative within the general population.

“We’ve been taught since we were little that Columbus discovered America and liberalized the Native Americans,” said Marina Gatto, a UCLA first-year law student who learned of the event through La Raza Law Students Association and Womyn of Color Collective.

But Heather Torres, a first-year law student at UCLA and member of the Native American Law Students Association, said Columbus didn’t discover the Americas because Native Americans had already lived there for thousands of years.

“We were already here,” Torres said. “It was our land.”

Geneva Thompson, a second-year law student and president of the Native American Law Students Association, said she thinks the state has celebrated Columbus as a hero who liberated the indigenous people, while ignoring the enslavement of Native Americans that occurred after he arrived in the Americas.

“The idea that a federal holiday sanctions the whitewashing of U.S. history – celebrating the coming of an invader and murderer to our lands – is unacceptable,” said Thompson, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

As California currently has the largest percentage of Native Americans in the U.S., and Los Angeles is the city with the second-largest population of Native Americans in the U.S., students said they think that UCLA, which has one of the few Native American law programs in the nation, should be more proactive in educating the student body about Native American history and reaching out to prospective Native American applicants.

In 2013, the UC had 1,680 Native American graduate and undergraduate students, 225 of which attend UCLA, according to the University’s 2014 Accountability Report.

Ben Myers, a member of the Pomo tribe and a law student at UCLA, said he thinks inequities in resources within the state’s K-12 education system and society deter Native American students from higher education.

“The school system hasn’t been an environment that welcomes or encourages Native American students into higher education,” Myers said. “I know of many people who can and should be in school, but who aren’t.”

Read more here: http://dailybruin.com/2014/10/13/ucla-law-students-rally-to-end-columbus-day/
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