A petition calling on Penn to recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day as a holiday has garnered over 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, and staff.
Natives at Penn, a student organization dedicated to increasing awareness of Native culture and history on campus, created the petition on Sept. 1 in hopes that adding the holiday to Penn's list of secular and religious holidays observed during the academic calendar will promote visibility of Indigenous students on campus. The list features holidays associated with the cancellation of class and those that are not and simply recognized by the University.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day takes place on Oct. 12 to honor Native American peoples’ resiliency in the face of violence by European explorers.
"The Native community was the first community here and remains here today," the petition reads. "It is necessary to acknowledge this history and create change in order to honor and respect Native peoples both past and present."
The 2020-21 Secular & Religious Holidays list posted on The Office of Chaplain & The Spiritual and Religious Life Center website currently includes religious holidays such as Yom Kippur and Good Friday as well as secular holidays such as Memorial Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As a footnote, the University acknowledges that there are other holidays of importance that do not appear on the list.
Wharton sophomore and Natives at Penn member Lauren McDonald said the rise in racial justice movements, such as the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, inspired her to start the petition. In addition to increasing awareness of the holiday, the petition aims to honor Lenape people, the tribe whose land Penn resides on, she said.
While Penn gives land acknowledgements — formal statements that recognize the Lenape tribe's right to the land — at events such as Commencement and Convocation, Natives at Penn is also calling upon the University to expand its support for Indigenous students by increasing funding for Indigenous student programming and providing a space for them in ARCH as a cultural center.
“You shouldn’t be giving land acknowledgements if that’s all that you’re doing,” College senior and Natives at Penn Undergraduate Chair Connor Beard said. “You need to also be actively looking for other ways to help the Indigenous and Native communities wherever you’re located.”
McDonald said Natives at Penn hopes to occupy a physical space on campus and collaborate with La Casa Latina, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, and Pan-Asian American Community House in the future to increase awareness of the Indigenous culture and support students of color on campus.
“Native people generally have such a strong attachment to physical locations,” Beard said. “[Having a space on campus] would help us to continue to build our community.”
Beard said that many Indigenous students do not feel visible on campus due to the lack of awareness of Indigenous culture and history, and hopes the petition will lead to increased University support for Indigenous students.
“I’ve met plenty of people at Penn who have never even heard of the concept of Native Americans,” Beard said, adding that many students have a misconception that Indigenous people only live on reservations.
Second-year Penn Law student and Natives at Penn Graduate Chair Brooke Parmalee believes that one of the main reasons why Indigenous students do not feel visible on campus is that they are not “big in numbers," noting that she is one of only three Indigenous students at Penn Law.
Mamta Accapadi, the new Vice Provost for University Life as of Aug. 17, reached out to Natives at Penn a couple weeks ago to express her support for the group's mission and apologize for the lack of support currently given to Indigenous students by the University, Parmalee said.
Parmalee added that Natives at Penn hopes Accapadi will advocate for the group when it sends the petition to President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett. McDonald said the group will send the petition to the administrators after it gathers 1,500 signatures.
McDonald said she is grateful for the support the petition has received from a number of student organizations such as Penn Community for Justice, as well as from faculty and staff of the School of Veterinary Medicine and the LGBT Center.
College senior and PCJ member Kara Cloud said PCJ endorsed the petition because it aligns with the organization’s mission of recognizing Penn's racist history and how it affects students on campus.
“As an institution that has benefited off the backs of Indigenous people and literally occupies their land illegally, the least we can do is offer a day of national recognition that will spur action and conversation,” Cloud said.