Oct. 14, 2019 marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday where Native American culture is formally recognized and celebrated.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day, founded in 1992 Berkeley, California, was established as a direct counter to Columbus Day (also on Oct. 14) with the end goal of showcasing a more historically accurate Columbus representation, while also drawing attention to rich indigenous culture and history. This commemoration is officially celebrated by seven states’ governments, not including California’s, and over a hundred cities.
Both the city of Santa Barbara and UCSB fall short of properly honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a national holiday. However, UCSB is situated on at least six Chumash Nation villages despite there being little formal contact between UCSB and the Chumash Nation. The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the American Indian Cultural Resource Center (AICRC) are the only programs at UCSB which consistently recognize the Chumash Nation as a meaningful regional identity.
The Bottom Line spoke with the tribal liaison, Mia Lopez, between UCSB’s American Indian Cultural Resource Center and the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation. Located by the Santa Barbara airport, the Goleta slough state marine conservation sits adjacent to the UCSB campus and historically served a much larger purpose for local natives. At one point this swamp-like water channel was significantly larger and acted as a safe harbor for canoes of various tribes seeking refuge from violent sea storms.
While waiting out these storms in the slough village houses, natives traded both physical commodities and far-reaching knowledge. UCSB itself is a successor to this diffusion of knowledge as it is ranked number seven in all public U.S. universities by the U.S. News & World Report.
Nonetheless, there is still a popular consensus that the indigenous community is not properly or fully represented in Santa Barbara nor UCSB. This is reflected in some of the experiences that Native American students face here at the university.
Former Associated Students External Vice President of Local Affairs and current member of AICRC Jeike Meijer spoke with The Bottom Line about the experiences of UCSB students with indigenous roots.
“As far as we knew and as far as we could find, I was the first native executive member in UCSB history. That meant a lot for my community. That gave visibility, and we were able to highlight and center stories and experiences that weren’t highlighted before,” Meijer said.
“I think for one, our population is really small. It’s very difficult to find one another. As much as you try, it can just be so difficult to find other native students, and that can feel very isolating … I know that a lot of people are in the boat where they’re disconnected from their culture. And they don’t feel that they’re valid in reclaiming it,” Meijer continued.
Meijer also spoke on indigenous individuals’ hesitancy to assert their heritage. “That always breaks my heart when I see, when I hear of people who say, ‘I have indigenous ancestry, but I don’t feel like I could claim that because I don’t know enough about it.’ It all goes back to representation, who’s voice is being heard.” Meijer belongs to the Arawak people, indigenous to the Caribbean, who are the first natives Columbus ever made contact with.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day represents an increase in awareness of issues and difficulties facing indigenous peoples, and it is gradually replacing the fallacies which have for centuries suppressed the voices of past and current Native Americans.