Lifestyle Staff Writer| Alexis McCurdy| firstname.lastname@example.org
“Class is cancelled” — the best sentence a college student can hear. We turn off alarms set for the early hours of the morning, dreaming of how fantastic it’ll be to sleep in the next day. But in observance of Columbus Day, do those extra three hours come at a price of both ignorance and disrespect? And does this lead to a disregard for the struggles of people of Native American descent and in particular students of OU?
“I feel like it’s [observance of Columbus Day] not perceived as an issue”, Read-Johnson Hall in-residence counselor and Spanish professor Dave Lawrence said. Lawrence recently held a discussion on this issue in the lobbies of Read-Johnson.
This outright disrespect is rarely seen or heard at OU, perhaps because only two students of Native American heritage currently reside here at OU. There is not a subsection in the OMSAR office for these students nor is there an organization that advocates for the voices of these students to be heard.
First-year student Erica Cox, of Choctaw descent, is one of these unheard voices. As a Rankin scholar, she is held to high expectations about supporting cultural contact and awareness. Cox says awareness of Native American culture is indeed a slight issue here at OU.
“There is a lot of discussion that is missed out on because people don’t talk about it. There are debates within tribes such as what to call indigenous people. If we got more people together, then maybe this could be fixed”.
Cox says even though she is recognized as only one of two, she knows statistically more people at OU have some American Indian heritage. She does “not particularly feel underrepresented,” but hopes there will be more discussion gearing towards treatment and recognition of Native American culture and heritage.
“Reaching out to people from other tribes and recognizing them not as indigenous people or Native Americans a whole, but as specifically members of their tribe, would be a great addition,” Cox additionally stated.
Lawrence says this lack of discussion can perhaps be found in roots traced back to Christopher Columbus himself.
“Studying the heroification of Columbus is actually sort of a gateway into understanding how we whitewash history. If we look at what’s going on with the pipeline now and compare it to the takeover of the Amazon, is it that different than what was going on before?” Lawrence said in reference to the recent protests against the installation of a new pipeline that will run into Native American territory. This installation will potentially pose various health risks for its residents.
States such as Minnesota, California, South Dakota, and Hawaii have issued public apologies for the unfair treatment and assimilation forces directed towards Native American communities. Lawrence says if OU hopes to change as well, the only way this trend of silence can be broken is if people speak up.
“I think it’d be neat if the university would go in the same routes of Minnesota and California and maybe call it into question. Systems don’t change just because it’s trendy: they (the university) would have to have some kind of pressure or catalyst. But, students should realize they tend to have a much more respected voice than they think they do.”