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Students urge SGA members to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

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Native students meet with SGA

Students (l-r) Josh Murphy, Jesse Robbins, Sydne Gray and Ashley McCray speak to SGA President Alex Byron and Vice President Avery Marczewski about changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day on OU's campus during a meeting Friday, Sept. 18, 2015.

Four Native American students representing Indigenize OU met with members of the OU Student Government Association to discuss Columbus Day being replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day — backed with over 100 letters of solidarity from OU students, faculty and staff.

The students, History of Science Program doctoral student Ashley McCray, Native American studies senior Jesse Robbins, philosophy sophomore Sydne Gray and health and exercise science senior Josh Murphy, talked with SGA President Alex Byron and Vice President Avery Marczewski about the issues they face as Native Americans on campus.

McCray said there are many issues with names and terminology on campus.

“One of our biggest issues is with the name "sooner," but I know we can’t tackle that in this meeting at this time," she said.

Gray said she agrees, and had a big problem with OU President David Boren's "real Sooners aren't racist."

McCray said the most immediate thing to address is a simple fix, which is recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.

Byron said Columbus Day, Oct. 12, is not recognized on campus, but they will discuss addressing Indigenous Peoples Day. 

Doing it in an official capacity would be a major gesture to restoring justice to the Native American community on campus, she said.

McCray presented a letter for SGA to read and letters from faculty, staff and students who support the initiative.

McCray said she is also part of a group called IDPOKC, a group based in Oklahoma City pushing for the same initiative.

“This is very much in the vein of what they’re doing," she said. "Parts of this letter is actually from the resolution they used, but I changed a lot of the language to make sure it was focused on the University of Oklahoma.”

Robbins said he wants Columbus Day to be replaced because the day represents a man who did horrible things to Native Americans, which shouldn’t be considered ancient history.

“A lot of times on campus, us Indians feel we’re coming in on your space — white people’s space, government’s space, state’s space, nation’s space, but it’s not true. You all are coming into our space,” Robbins said.  

Robbins placed tobacco into the left hands of Byron, Marczewski, Gray, Murphy, McCray and then himself.

“I’m going to do this in the Indian way. I want you to take this tobacco in your left hand so that when we talk like this, we talk good,” Robbins said.

He said the left arm is connected to our hearts, and placing the tobacco in the left hand allows them to talk truthfully.

“I don’t say anything to hurt you all, but the truth needs to be known of the original peoples of this land,” he said.

Robbins said ignorance isn’t an excuse any more.

“(People say) 'Redskins? I never knew that came from literally skinning babies alive and getting money for it. I was ignorant of that,'" he said.

"Well, don’t be such an immigrant, then," Robbins said, citing that all people should be educated of the fact that they are, in essence, immigrants themselves.

“I’m for Trump," Robbins said jokingly. "Let’s build a wall and kick everyone out except Indians.”

Robbins asked why Americans celebrate Columbus Day, after presenting the history of the day, discussing in graphic detail about sex trade, slavery and torture.

“It’s hard to go through this when your family has been through it. It’s not just a history book to me,” he said.

McCray said indigenous people are rising and want to make sure others like them don’t experience the same issues.

“We want to make sure they have the best experience in the university as possible,” she said.

Robbins said it’s important to understand where you are and what you do wholistically.

“If you want to heal and step outside of ourselves and be courageous enough to heal — sometimes healing hurts,” he said.

McCray said she wants Boren to know that they will not be silenced by the administration.

“We will be speaking out,” she said.

Robbins said Native Americans have a history of being silenced or dismissed.

“When I see things start to change, I’ll say ‘yeah, it’s starting to change,’ but I think healing hurts," he said. "When you’re in a position of power, it’s hard to give that up to heal other people.”

Robbins said for change to happen, indigenous people and other minorities need to speak up, and white people need to listen.

Bryce McElhaney is a journalism junior and senior reporter at the Daily, and co-founder of OKFolks Magazine. His past includes the Journal Record Legislative Report and the OCCC Pioneer.

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