The Native American Student Union has drawn up a petition to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The petition will be online until this Friday, when the NASU will deliver it to Governor McAuliffe and the Virginia State House and Senate.
Five states have abolished Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and many cities have chosen to rename the holiday as well. While NASU has always encouraged the recognition of Native Americans on Columbus Day, Shae Weathersbee, vice president of administration, said NASU “wanted to get Virginia in the mix” after several additional cities recently renamed Columbus Day.
NASU President Benaiah Walters said the petition’s goals are twofold.
“The petition, even if it is not successful in changing the holiday, is intended to drive discussion of why we as a modern nation celebrate a man so opposed to America’s ideals of freedom and equality,” Walters said in an email statement.
Evelyn Immonen, vice president of outreach and treasurer for NASU, said the group hopes that the petition will increase awareness of Native American history.
“I think we mostly want to start a conversation, especially if people notice Beta Bridge and realize they never thought about what Columbus Day might mean to a certain group of people,” Immonen said.
NASU discussed the petition internally for about a month and a half. NASU reached out to other multicultural organizations in the Minority Rights Coalition and professors in the history and anthropology departments to publicize the petition.
The goal of the petition is to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with a holiday celebrating the achievements and contributions of Native Americans, Immonen said.
“People can still get off of work, it’s just the thought that this myth that has been passed down in classrooms for centuries that the discovery of America was monumental,” Immonen said. “Instead of learning about the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, we could learn about the Cherokee, the Navajo and the Sioux.”
Columbus Day is already a federally recognized holiday, but Weathersbee said they want to shift the perspective of the holiday “from being Western and Eurocentric.”
“We wanted to diversify the types of people and influences that went into creating America,” Weathersbee said.
Regardless of the result of the petition, Weathersbee said NASU will continue to raise awareness of the history and culture of indigenous peoples.
“Even if we don’t get recognition from the state, we want to continue to spread the word about the truth about the indigenous people who were here and continue to be here,” Weathersbee said.