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Indigenous Peoples’ Day would dispel stereotypes, promote social justice, WVU expert says

woman with long hair, tree in foreground

A private Peace Tree ceremony was held Saturday Nov. 7, 2020 on the downtown campus. A few people affiliated with the Native American Studies program cleaned the area, removed old ties and placed new ones. In remembrance of West Virginians who have lost their lives to COVID-19 a garland with a tie representing the 487 deaths as of Friday was hung on the tree. (WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard)

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Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a way to acknowledge the first people to live in the land that is now the U.S. More than a dozen states and nearly 150 cities, including Columbus, Ohio, commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a time to help educate, end negative stereotypes and counter centuries of cultural erasure, according to Bonnie Brown, Native American Studies Coordinator at West Virginia University.

Brown said Italian Americans are also advocating for change, acknowledging Columbus’ legacy, which includes enslaving Indigenous people and taking them to Europe. October is Italian American Heritage and Culture Month.


“Estimates show that, prior to Columbus landing in the Caribbean, the Indigenous population of what is now the United States may have been 30 million or more and likely 60 million throughout the Americas. Indigenous peoples describe their presence in this land as ‘since time immemorial.’ Scientists point to archeological evidence of an Indigenous presence here at least 23,000 years ago.”

“For Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the Columbus landing launched centuries of genocide, disease, slavery, colonization, and domination. Sponsored by Spain, he set out for the Asian East Indies, landed in what is called the Caribbean, and returned to Europe not knowing where he’d been. He took Indigenous captives to Europe, commodifying fellow humans and launching the trans-Atlantic slave trade, stating, ‘…their Highnesses may see that I shall give them as much gold as they need… and slaves as many as they shall order to be shipped.’”

“Today there are 574 Federally-recognized American Indian Nations and Alaska Native Communities in the U.S. Native Nations predate the formation of the United States and have long histories of using their sovereignty in caring for their citizens and interacting with other tribal nations.” The 2020 U.S. Census reports about 3,800 American Indians or Alaska Natives living in West Virginia and more than 30,000 West Virginians reported they are American Indian or Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races.

Bonnie M. Brown, WVU Native American Studies Program Coordinator 



CONTACT: Bonnie Brown
WVU Native American Studies Program Coordinator


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WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
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