Community members have raised concerns over the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) 2018 mid-semester break, as it falls on Oct. 8, a day recognized nationally as Columbus Day and as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Durham.
“When Native Americans or indigenous-identifying people sit in their classrooms…and hear their peers, professors, staff, faculty around them say, ‘oh, you have Columbus Day off,’ or ‘oh, no classes on Columbus Day,’ when the town of Durham established Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that’s very harmful and ultimately erasing what the town has done and fought for to have this day established,” said Riley Boss, chair of the university’s Native American Cultural Association (NACA) and a senior anthropology major.
“For people to just mislabel the mid-semester break as the nationally-recognized holiday, Columbus Day, is just really damaging,” Boss said.
According to University Registrar Andrew Colby, the date of mid-semester break is the result of recent changes and experimentation with the official calendar.
“The semester has to have 70 class days, so mid-semester always falls in October’s second week,” Colby explained.
The Faculty Senate passed a motion in 2002 that required the mid-semester break to align with the with the federal holiday of Columbus Day. In 2015, the body voted to cancel the mid-semester break and experiment with a three-day Thanksgiving break. For 2018-19, it requested both a three-day Thanksgiving break as well as a mid-semester break.
The town of Durham is one of over 50 cities and some states across the country that observe Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October, observed federally as Columbus Day. Last year, Durham became the first town in the Granite State to declare Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with Oyster River School District board following suit and voting this past August to recognize the holiday.
“I’m very proud that the Durham community is the first community in New Hampshire to recognize this day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Durham town administrator Todd Selig said. “Our recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same date [as Columbus Day] brings attention to a group of people who are often overlooked and forgotten in our history books.”
In March, the NH State House of Representatives voted down a bill that would make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a state-wide holiday.
At a “Tea with NACA” event held on Friday, students and local community members gathered to discuss Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Some said that although progress has been made with Durham’s declaration of the holiday, major issues surrounding cultural incompetency about native peoples remain.
Kristen Oser Allen, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe, came from Merrimack with three of her five children to participate in the conversation. She said that when she and her five kids travel to local elementary and middle schools in traditional dress to teach students about her tribe’s culture, it is evident that education is lacking.
“Kids ask us, do you live in a teepee? No. Where do you get your food? From the grocery store. Do you always dress like that? No,” Oser Allen said about her family’s experience in schools.
From Sept. through Nov., events celebrating indigenous cultures and history have been scheduled throughout Durham by Durham United, an organization made up of residents who support and advocate for Durham’s diverse community. Some events taking place at UNH include a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at the Dimond Library and the 9th annual Powwow hosted by NACA.
Boss believes UNH should be more vocal about Indigenous Peoples’ Day if students are to be given the day off.
“I would want it to be recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and I would like to see the university make efforts in emailing and getting the note out there to students that it is called Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Put it on the syllabi, and maybe even hold some events to welcome the community members to talk about their experiences, or even hold a celebration,” Boss said.
Interim Associate Vice President for Community, Equity and Diversity Monica Chiu was present at “Tea with NACA” and says that the issue has been brought the issue to the university’s attention for future discussion.