College Senate supports SUNY Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution

The College Senate endorsed a resolution that would recognize the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” This approval accompanies other pressures on the administration to increase the representation of Native American issues outside of the classroom. 

Both the Student Senate and the University Faculty Senate held votes on whether to approve the resolution concerning indigenous people, before professor of English and comparative literature Maria Lima introduced a resolution to the College Senate for a vote on Nov. 7. College senators voted to approve the measure. 

Part of the push for this initiative came from distinguished professor of history Michael Oberg and professor of English Caroline Woidat, who specialize in Native American history and literature, respectively, and both coordinate the Native American studies program. Oberg sent a letter to President Denise Battles, where he requested that the administration consider recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day as well as placing a flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in the college circle and in the Macvittie College Union. 

“I’m grateful to the president who doggedly went out and got information on this,” Oberg said at the College Senate meeting. “Some of this stuff is happening. The union will fly the Haudenosaunee flag somewhere.” 

The issue of whether the college can officially change anything as a whole was a point of discussion at the senate meeting. The college cannot alter Columbus Day officially to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to Oberg. 

Associate professor of physics James McLean explained that the resolution skirts that issue since it does not replace Columbus Day, but merely recognizes it alongside Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Assistant provost for curriculum and assessment Savi Iyer noted that the college could include Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the calendar without subverting state policies.

Comparative literature major senior Sophie Boka felt that the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day could be beneficial, if it starts conversations. 

“I don’t think it’s black and white where if it doesn’t happen it’s bad. I think it would call attention to a conversation that has not been had thoroughly enough at this school,” Boka said. “We’re a continuation of the public school system in a way, and we don’t really talk about it in public school … and it’s a needed conversation, why not have that conversation?”

Boka also questioned Battles’ initial denial regarding changing the calendar to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

“It was also interesting to hear that President Battles just kind of said no to Oberg’s request to change the day on the basis that we couldn’t do it,” Boka said. “To hear that she would so quickly say no to something like that was interesting.” 

Oberg additionally indicated that Geneseo has a responsibility to adequately address native issues. 

“We are on a campus called Geneseo that stands on land that was acquired in the treaty of 1797, one of the two or three most corrupt treaties in the history of the 371 [treaties],” Oberg said at the Nov. 7 meeting. “We commemorated a lot of assorted parts of that history, so we ought to at least do the small things necessary to acknowledge that this college stands on lands acquired from indigenous peoples.”