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Is it meaningful to honor indigenous peoples or just an empty gesture?

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This Monday, Oct. 10, is Indigenous Peoples' Day — a holiday honoring the past, present and future of Native peoples across the country. It's a day to reflect on the impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities while also celebrating their cultures and their resilience.

This observance is a replacement for Columbus Day, given the history of Christopher Columbus that goes well beyond what some of us were taught in elementary school. Those facts coming to light resulted in other reconsiderations, one of which happened on West Courtland Avenue here in Milwaukee.

Between 72nd and 74th streets, you’ll find yourself at a vast and beautiful park. Right now, the trees are changing to beautiful hues of yellow and orange, and the air feels a bit cleaner and crisp. But if you were just to stroll through, you might not know it was Columbus Park until October 2019, when it was renamed Indigenous Peoples Park to honor those groups in Milwaukee County.

Our parks aren’t the only things changing. In the past, Marquette University’s seal — which it uses to authenticate documents, among other things — showcased Jacques Marquette standing in a canoe, pointing the way forward for a Native American guide sitting in the boat. Earlier this year, because of efforts made by student activists, Marquette updated the seal with a landscape that honors the land and waterways. 

I talked about these changes with Tara Daly, Ph.D., professor of languages, literatures and cultures at Marquette University, and co-director of the Center for Race, Ethnic and Indigenous Studies. We discussed how important it is to reflect and reexamine our history, and if land acknowledgment is a necessary step or merely a performative gesture.


Audio Storyteller | Radio Milwaukee