NMU recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day


Photo courtesy of Noah Hausmann. RECOGNIZED-NMU has decided to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day after the NMU board of Trustees approved the recognition. Photos from 2017’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day highlights the long struggle for recognition.

Nicholas Conroy

On July 30, the NMU Board of Trustees agreed to pass the motion for Northern Michigan University to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday in honor of Native Indigenous Americans. 

The importance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which occurs on the second Monday of October each year, is a reminder of our nation’s history with the Indigenous community that faced many hardships following colonization of the area and a commemoration of their history and culture. The day acts as both celebration and a mourning of the community, said Jud Sojourn, assistant professor at the Center for Native American Studies.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day that says there is a better world possible where governance is balanced and where a community is based on the understanding that we are surrounded at all times by a great wonder – that we are in a sense a mystery even to ourselves, and that mystery is a cause for celebration and assertion of independent will,” Sojourn said.  “It is a day where we recognize that for people and places, the old names are returning and along with them so return the ancestors in a good way. “

The fight for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to be recognized by NMU officially began in March of 2016 through a resolution by the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University. Current ASNMU president Emma Drever, elected in April 2020, worked alongside Native American Student Association members Bazile Panek and Yrsa Peterson to write and present the proposal to the NMU Board of Trustees in July 2020.

Current plans at NMU in honor of the holiday are to be a mix of online and in-person events, Panek said. Speakers will present topics that will discuss, celebrate and educate the public on Indigenous peoples, their history, contemporary issues and their future identity.

“Although the format may be different from years prior, the goal of the day stays the same: Educating others about the process of colonization and the celebration of Indigeneity,” Panek said. “This will happen through ceremonial drum songs, a talk by a keynote speaker, a panel discussion, and a celebration at the end of the day.”

More details will be added as the event approaches.

“To me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to recognize colonization: how it has happened in the past, and how we are actually still in a state of colonization today. Indigenous Peoples and their perseverance through colonization deserves to be recognized and celebrated. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also a day to be grateful for the land that NMU rests on: Anishinaabe Territory,” Panek said. “On Indigenous Peoples’ Day this year, let us say miigwech or thank you to the Indigenous People who have come before us on this land, and for the beautiful Indigenous cultures, languages, and histories that are still alive today.”

The fight for the University’s recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a long one, and the fight is not over yet, said Drever. The programs and events that occur on the second Monday of October each year will continue to grow and change all in service of education, celebration, and remembrance of the Indigenous community.

“[Indigenous Peoples’ Day] is a celebration of human beings as a part of the land and of family – children and elders, men, women and two-spirited people. It is most of all the continued recognition that the human beings are not just caretakers of the land, but are part of shakimikwe, mother earth – along with all of the other nations of stones, stars, plants and animals – those who gift to us sustenance, awareness, knowledge and insight,” Sojourn said.