NMU students, faculty, community members protest for official recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Day

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Northern Michigan University students and faculty celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day Monday, while also protesting the school's decision not to recognize the holiday.

Students, professors, and community members--varying from indigenous people to supporters--marched through campus Monday morning. Along the way, they sang and chanted, voicing their displeasure with the university.

"It's unfortunate for me. I feel that they are not listening to me and I feel that they are not understanding my people,” said Bazile Panek, president of the NMU Native American Student Association. “In a sense, they are accepting the genocide and the actions against indigenous peoples and their cultures."

The movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day began nationally in 1977 and in 2010, the United State endorsed the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On Monday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that Michigan will also recognize the holiday.

"When the governor signs a proclamation, she's the head of the state, and this is a state run institution, so NMU should be thinking about that in relationship to the state of Michigan," said Dr. Martin Reinhardt, professor of Native American Studies at NMU.

NMU's Center for Native American Studies and the Native American Student Association petitioned the university last year to make the change but received no response. Although the university still does not recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the students have taken it upon themselves to, with a proclamation.

"I thought we could do more, so this morning, I read off an official presidential proclamation as the student body president, that we the students are going to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, because we are NMU," said Associated Students of NMU president Cody Mayer.

NMU in the past month has established a committee to consider the change, but no decision has been made at this time. The city of Marquette will discuss recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day Tuesday night during their city commission meeting.

"We are on Anishinaabe land, these are the people that have lived here for centuries and it's just kind of like, if you are not understanding and grateful for what these people have done in this land for years, it's unfortunate," said Panek.

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