On Monday October 11th, Sequoyah’s high school celebrated national Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The day began with an extended Morning Meeting, during which students in this year’s Arts and Textiles course, taught by Viviana Palacio, shared some of their work with the school. In advisory, students watched Reel Injun, a documentary about the Hollywood film industry and how Indigenous peoples of America have been represented in movies across time. The film offered students insight into the importance and impact of Indigenous cultures on our own lives and our nation’s history.
Sequoyah also had the opportunity to meet Judith Torres, a member of the Arhuaco Community (pueblo iku). The Arhuaco people live in the Sierra Nevadas of Santa Marta, which is located in northern Colombia. Torres joined the Sequoyah community via Zoom and, as Dean of Students Viviana Palacio noted, “share[d] with our students about her community’s culture, practices, customs and beliefs and her work as leader of a women weavers collective.” Sequoyah students also got the chance to hear from Judith’s husband, the former governor of the Arhuaco people, Rogelio Mejia, who talked about the importance of conserving and cherishing the environment to ensure that life can thrive on this planet.
Sequoyah’s Indigenous People’s Day programming was facilitated by Palacio, who is an expert in Indigenous Studies. Palacio noted that she wants to integrate more aspects of Indigenous cultures and histories into our school. She explained the importance of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day: “Our school is named after a Cherokee silversmith who invented the Cherokee syllabary…. During these days we are honoring his legacy.” Palacio also remarked that “the land we are on currently is the area of the Tongva ancestors.” She noted that “this culture continues to live in this area and continues to try to fight for the recognition of their homeland.”
When asked about what the day means for her, Palacio noted that she “grew up celebrating a thing called Columbus day,” but “around 1992, which was almost 500 years after Columbus arrived in America, there was a shift.” During this shift, more people started to realize the wrongdoings of Columbus and to recognize the harm he had done to the people he hurt and destroyed. Palacio explained, “First of all, Columbus didn’t discover the Americas, because the Americas were already there with many cultures that had been thriving.” Thus, instead of celebrating the day that Columbus touched down in the Americas, the people who had previously celebrated Columbus Day started celebrating an “encounter of cultures”; they also recognized that “this encounter was not necessarily peaceful.” In conclusion, Palacio remarked that the shift from celebrating Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day is “a very good example of the way narratives and paradigms shift culturally.”
With its commitment to being an inclusive school and community, Sequoyah seeks to represent and embrace all cultures. Indigenous Peoples’ Day was an opportunity to continue to preserve, cherish, and celebrate Native peoples’ cultures, contributions, and histories.