The second Monday of every October is Indigenous Peoples Day — though some states and cities such as Illinois and Chicago continue to celebrate it as Columbus Day. Loyola’s administration has yet to officially recognize the holiday and has failed to live up to the university’s commitment to social justice.
As the glamorization of Christopher Columbus and his journey to the Western hemisphere slowly fades from the collective memory, universities like Loyola need to recognize their role in changing the way the next generation views the U.S.’s expansion and treatment of Native Americans.
The Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC) already unanimously passed a resolution in February calling on Loyola to “recognize and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and encourage the university to recognize and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day campus-wide.” Months have passed and it seems not much has changed — the Loyola administration appears to have remained silent.
To Loyola’s credit, buried deep in the school’s website, is a land acknowledgment page recognizing the school occupies the “ancestral homelands of the people of the Council of Three Fires” which includes the Odawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwe Nations. Various other nations lived in the land that would become Chicago but were forcibly removed in a series of treaties that robbed them of land and power.
But a simple land acknowledgment hidden away in the depths of its website is hardly a robust response to the growing calls of the student body for recognition.
The school’s silence is especially harmful considering the history of the Jesuit’s missionary practices in the Chicago area during the early years of colonization — where they were active in Potawatomi territories as early as 1673.
Yes, Jesuits are credited with recording the culture and language of many Indigenous peoples. But missionaries were complicit in eliminating Indigenous culture. Loyola even celebrates the missionaries’ activities in the Great Lakes region in a large mural on display in Cudahy Library called “New Lands in North America Explored and Evangelized by Fathers of the Society of Jesus.”
How can a university dedicated to social justice continue to gloss over the issues of Native Americans?
Portraits like those in Cudahy Library and the celebration of Columbus Day contribute to a subtle and damaging campaign of misinformation. Cudahy’s mural paints the missionaries in a positive light, showcasing cooperation between them and native people — hiding the loss of culture, land, sovereignty and life that would soon follow.
Chicago has one of the largest Native American populations in the Midwest with around 65,000, according to the American Indian Center website. Although Native Americans or Native Hawaiians made up only 0.4 percent of the total student enrollment in 2018-2019, Loyola can’t afford to keep silent.
By failing to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day, Loyola continues to harm its Native American students and perpetuate ignorance of Native American history. The fact Loyola’s website shows only one tenured professor dedicated to Native American history only further damages its claim to social justice.
It’s not enough to stop celebrating Columbus Day — the school needs to actively educate its students and recognize Indigenous issues.