St. Paul celebrates first Indigenous Peoples Day


Submitted by Sushmita Hodges

Intercultural Club advisor Sushmita Hodges stands with Tom LaBlanc at the celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day which took place at the Pangea World Theater. “This is a day that should not just be put on the calendar but should be recognized,” Hodges said.

Boraan Abdulkarim, Editor in Chief

October is a month of many associations—apple picking, colorful leaves, and a variety of holidays, from Halloween to Columbus Day. The latter, however, has been a topic of debate for over half a century, since the city of Portland, Oregon first proposed replacing the celebration of Columbus with a celebration of the indigenous people who were and still are negatively affected by the setbacks of the Columbian Exchange. Other grievances against the celebration of Columbus Day  include the fact that Christopher Columbus  only accidentally “discovered” America, and the fact that celebrating his supposed discovery dismisses the indigenous people who inhabited this land long before Columbus.

Consequently Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon have discontinued observation of the federal holiday. As of 2014 eight cities, including Minneapolis, replaced or renamed Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples day. This August, St. Paul followed in Minneapolis’ footsteps, declaring the second Monday of October Indigenous Peoples Day.

Celebrating what he [Columbus] did isn’t fair. Also [his actions are] less something to be celebrated than to be learned from.

— Flannery Enneking-Norton

A celebration was hosted at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

This change prompts reflection on the role of Columbus Day in St. Paul Academy and Summit School students’ past. Senior Michelle Heilig remembers being told the typical hero’s tale of Christopher Columbus in the Lower School.

“I didn’t even know it was wrong,” Heilig said.

Heilig, who has since learned about the inequality of the Columbian Exchange from her Upper School history classes, believes that the establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day is “a step in the right direction.”  

Sophomore Flannery Enneking-Norton, who has been learning about the Columbian Exchange in her world history II class, believes that “celebrating what he [Columbus] did isn’t fair. Also [his actions are] less something to be celebrated than to be learned from.”

Enneking-Norton notes that it’s important to “pay respect to the people that he hurt but also [celebrate] their resilience. I think that’s more appropriate and beneficial.”

Sophomore Michael Hall, who previously lived in Columbus, Ohio, compares the celebration of Columbus Day there to the way it used to be celebrated up until this year in Saint Paul.

“It was a lot bigger of a deal there. All the schools were closed,” he said.

Hall supports the change. “I wouldn’t think of it as a celebration [of indigenous people] . It’s more like a recognition,” he said.

Such a celebration physically took place at the  Pangea World Theater, which Intercultural Club advisor Sushmita Hodges attended. The event included theater performances, poetry, and an exhibition of the senior speech of alumna Isabella LaBlanc ‘15.

“They’ve been denied their history and place in history. I think this is a day that should not just be put on the calendar but should be recognized,” Hodges said. “The continuous pattern of that story that started out as a Columbian Exchange hasn’t really ended, because a lot of the Dakota and Ojibwe people are still fighting for their rights here in Minnesota.”