Tufts exists on stolen land. The education, relationships and connections that we profit from as members of the Tufts community would not exist if it were not for the violent exploitation and forced displacement of the Wampanoag peoples that stewarded this land for generations. Indigenous Peoples Day, which Tufts instituted in place of Columbus Day in February 2016, is a time to reflect upon the United States’ settler-colonist history and pay tribute to the lives and cultures lost and suppressed on this land.
Though Tufts observed this day in the past, the administration decided to hold classes on Indigenous Peoples Day this year, which lands on Monday, Oct. 12. In an email sent to the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering (AS&E) faculty in June, the AS&E Executive Committee explained that classes would be held in order to best accommodate this semester’s scheduling constraints. After reviewing a number of options, including substituting a day of reading period to observe the holiday and canceling classes altogether, the committee decided to hold classes as scheduled. Tufts encourages students to acknowledge this day by planning and participating in community events; the university also asked instructors to avoid assigning work due on this day and to accommodate any student absences.
By putting academic scheduling ahead of observing the United States’ fraught history of colonialism, Tufts is neglecting its commitment to fostering justice and equality for all marginalized communities. Tufts’ compromise of asking students and faculty to take their own initiatives to recognize Indigeneous Peoples Day does not do justice to the millions of Indigenous lives lost to colonialism. While all members of the Tufts community should take personal time to reflect on this day, the responsibility to recognize it should fall upon the entire institution, not just students and faculty.
It is unrealistic to ask students and professors to observe Indigenous Peoples Day in totality when classes are still being held. Even if professors accommodate student absences and avoid assigning work due on this day, students might still feel obligated to attend class or complete missed classwork and assignments. Time spent learning other subjects takes vital time away from learning about and acknowledging this country’s colonial history. Moreover, the holding of classes and other university events during a time of reflection is counteractive to the purpose of the day and blatantly insensitive to the Indigenous communities this day aims to honor.
Acknowledging this history means also acknowledging the ways in which systemic racism and persecution persist in the United States and the Tufts community. Institutionalized racism within American policing, carceral, education and economic systems have led to the marginalization, discrimination and killing of countless Black individuals. These racist systems and practices infiltrate our own campus as well; we have witnessed multiple incidents of white supremacy, racial bias and discrimination. While Tufts has taken significant steps to become an actively anti-racist institution, there is still much work to be done to eradicate hate on our campus and to elevate the voices of those historically marginalized — which includes the observance of Indigenous Peoples Day as an academic community.
Canceling classes on Indigenous Peoples Day is just the start of what the Tufts community can do to better acknowledge this country’s and Tufts’ own history of systemic racism. Kris Manjapra, chair of the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora, detailed the various ways that Tufts can properly recognize the Indigenous peoples who have lived and continue to live on this land.
“We should participate in land acknowledgements, recognizing the personal and institutional benefits we claim from unceded Wampanoag land,” Manjapra wrote in an email to the Daily. “As an institution, we should promote Native American and Indigenous Studies through our curriculum, including prioritizing faculty hires in this important field.”
Manjapra also discussed “disarming and defunding of the [Tufts University Police Department], in order to invest adequately in the wellbeing and safety of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian diasporic members of our community.”
In order to better recognize and honor the Indigenous peoples who lived and continue to live on the land that Tufts exists upon, Tufts must cancel classes on Indigenous Peoples Day. On this day and beyond, the Tufts community must reflect upon the ways that the United States’ settler-colonial roots continue to erase and marginalize Indigenous communities and fight to keep these histories alive.