“…Native American people, have always occupied the lands of the United States farther back than any history can record or dispute. Indigenous in fact means to be ‘beget’ of a certain land or place – to have always been there, to belong to a place. You cannot logically ‘discover’ a land that already fully belonged to someone else.”

Founder of Honoring Our Own Power, Wanda Jean Lord, October 7, 2008 rally at Brown University

On October 7, 2008, Brown University students and community leaders in Native American activism rallied against Brown’s observance of Columbus Day.[1] They marched through campus to challenge the celebration of Christopher Columbus, a man who enforced genocide and slavery on indigenous peoples of the Americas. At the rally, Reiko Koyama ‘11 proclaimed that “Continuing to celebrate … a conqueror driven with greed, cruelty, and self-righteousness, over 500 years later is unacceptable. Continuing the practice at a progressive, socially-conscious institution such as Brown … is reprehensible.”[2]

In April 2009, the University agreed to eliminate the holiday from the academic calendar.[3] Many students approved the decision, but a national debate arose when news sources ridiculed this activism as a disgrace to American history. Thus, even after the elimination of the holiday, full retribution for the pain caused by Columbus Day at Brown has yet to be attained.

In October 2014, the John Carter Brown Library started a lecture series called “The Earliest Americas: A New Initiative in Indigenous Studies.”[4] The initiative launched with a lecture by historian Ned Blackhawk, who encouraged the public to “expos[e] limitations in existing narratives” by having continuous conversations to understand the pain inflicted upon Native peoples by celebrations of Columbus Day. “Earliest Americas” is a significant example of a space for these conversations. But as Blackhawk states, whatever the effort to reconcile the narratives silenced by Brown’s histories of violence, that effort must continue on.

“We are now at a point in our nation’s history where we are really, for the first time, able to … rediscover America.”

Historian, Ned Blackhawk, October 2014 Lecture at John Carter Brown Library


[1] Reiko Koyama, “Speak-Out Against Columbus Day” (program flyer, Brown University, 2008).

[2] Reiko Koyama, “Reiko’s Columbus Day Speech” (program speech notes, Brown University, 2008).

[3] Lauren Fedor, “Columbus Change Spurs Response,” Brown Daily Herald, April 14, 2009, accessed November 3, 2014, http://www.browndailyherald.com/2009/04/14/columbus-change-spurs-response/.

[4] Kerri Colfer, “‘Earliest America’ Initiative Rethinks History,” Brown Daily Herald, October 14, 2014, accessed November 29, 2014, http://www.browndailyherald.com/2014/10/14/earliest-america-initiative-rethinks-history/.