Santa Rosa Junior College to observe Indigenous People’s Day on Columbus Day

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Monday will signal a new day for Santa Rosa Junior College, as it joins the schools and cities that have declared Indigenous People’s Day is to be recognized on Columbus Day.

The action was driven by a resolution from the Student Government Assembly that SRJC President Frank Chong signed. The day is to be marked with a Monday ceremony.

The resolution — which touches on sensitive territory for those who find critical re-examinations of Christopher Columbus’ historical role objectionable — is introduced by a paragraph that reads:

The student assembly “recognizes the importance of our indigenous roots. We see it to be the duty of educational institutions to promote the fearless discussion of uncomfortable truths.

“These truths include a discussion of the invasion, conquest, genocide and environmental destruction of native lands and indigenous peoples that still continues today.”

“For indigenous people, it’s definitely a huge step in the right direction” said Erika Hernandez Ramirez, the student government’s vice president of committees. “It’s to honor indigenous people and to tell the other side of the story that hasn’t been told.”

Chong sought to distinguish SRJC’s action from the political movement behind the creation of Indigenous Peoples’ Days elsewhere — including the city of Berkeley, at UC Berkeley, Stanford University and Sacramento State University. That movement says it is wrong to honor an explorer whose arrival on North America’s shores ushered in the eventual destruction of much of Native American society.

“That wasn’t the source of this whole conversation that I had with this whole group,” he said. “It was, ‘We want the indigenous people who live in this community to be recognized, to have a welcoming atmosphere,’ to say ‘We welcome more Native American students to come seek higher education.’ ”

SRJC does not otherwise observe Columbus Day, a federal holiday during which the campus remains open.

The designation of Indigenous People’s Day is of a piece, Chong said, with the Pow Wow ceremony traditionally held for decades at the college’s Day Under the Oaks event, and with meetings he has set with local tribal leaders to brainstorm ways to increase enrollment of Native Americans at SRJC.

“I didn’t want to make this an adversarial event,” he said. “I see this as an outreach event to indigenous people in Sonoma County and part of what we’re trying to do as a college.”

Staff Writer Jeremy Hay blogs about education at You can reach him at 521-5212 or On Twitter @jeremyhay.

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