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Carolina Indian Circle fights for University recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day

Hollister resident Linzie Evans, 10, and member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe dances during the Carolina Indian Circle's 33rd Annual Powwow in Fezter Gym on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.

The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as well as the state of North Carolina, have all proclaimed the second Monday of October to be Indigenous Peoples Day, but UNC leaves this day blank on the academic calendar. 

The Carolina Indian Circle has now created a petition to ask for the day to be recognized by the University.

“The Carolina Indian Circle at UNC-Chapel Hill would like to request that the University take an active stance in supporting Indigenous Peoples Day by adding it to the University calendar on the second Monday in October," CIC said in the petition. “By continuing the use of no holiday on the second Monday in October at UNC, you glorify Columbus and support the negative consequences that Native people have faced and continue to face.”

In a statement from UNC Media Relations, University spokesperson Jeni Cook said Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has asked the Commission on History, Race and A Way Forward to explore how to best “recognize the role indigenous people played in the history of our University and an appropriate land acknowledgment.”

Any modifications to the academic calendar would be recommended by the Academic Calendar Committee, which is approved by the chancellor, Cook said in an email. 

Skylar Chavis, a senior communications major and president of CIC, said a lot of people are misinformed about who Christopher Columbus actually was, and recognition from the University is important to change that.

“Indigenous Peoples Day is really important, especially at UNC, because even at this University, there's so much miseducation and ignorance surrounding Indigenous Peoples Day and just who we are,” Chavis said. “It's really important to have visibility on this campus, on a (predominately white institution), because we are such a small part of the population here, but we still matter.”

Chavis, who is Lumbee, said that normally CIC celebrates at The Gift, an art piece located near the Student Union annex and designed by Senora Lynch, an artist from the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe.

This year, CIC plans to host a virtual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration due to the pandemic. The organization has put out information on Twitter to inform students about Columbus and Native people.

“Us educating the rest of the student body is a choice that we've made on our social media, and it's not always a person's job to educate someone else about their culture or their experiences,” Chavis said. “Learning about the atrocities that Indigenous people have faced makes people hyper-aware to the fact that we’re still celebrating awful people.”

Chavis said the group has worked alongside the Office of Student Life & Leadership and UNC Student Government to determine the best ways to be recognized by the University. She said CIC's social media chairperson Marcus Richardson also organized a social media campaign the week before Indigenous Peoples Day to educate the public.

Sibby Anderson Thompkins, interim chief diversity officer for the University, said she supports these students and welcomes them to the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion. 

“The first thing I would recommend is to meet with key leaders on campus and talk about their goals with leadership, so that we can support them,” Anderson Thompkins said. "I think that there's got to be research done to determine, who does the authority lie with? Is it, in fact, the University or is it the UNC System?” 

She said that since the University is a part of a state system, there needs to be more clarification into what the University can do on its own to get Indigenous Peoples Day recognized. 

Hannah Starling, junior media and journalism major and CIC banquet co-chairperson, said it is upsetting to know that people of color are not recognized fully.

“I think it's very important for UNC to advocate for this day and show not only the students, but the people in the community that it's important to know the past and the history of what Native American peoples have had to go through," Starling said. 

Starling, who is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, said that, with the current political climate, this was a time for the group to advocate for recognition with the petition and social media campaign.

“Our intentions with this are just bringing awareness to the fact that we are on native land, to the fact of what happened to our ancestors, because K-12 doesn't even hit the surface of what happened to our peoples,” Starling said. “This is just to show we are still here, we are thriving and we want the Carolina community to thrive with us.”

Taylor Williams, a sophomore and member of CIC, said Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to appreciate her culture, as she is a member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe of Hollister, North Carolina.

“What Indigenous Peoples Day means to me is just to celebrate the importance of our people and culture, and just to honor everything that we’ve accomplished and our elders for what they’ve done for us,” Williams said. “And to finally let the world know that Christopher Columbus wasn’t a good person, and he doesn’t deserve a holiday.”


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