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UW Students Host Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration

Eight U.S. states and at least 129 cities recognize Indigenous People's Day on the second Monday of October. Many Native students at the University of Wyoming would like to see Laramie and Wyoming join that list.

"I was always taught Native American history from a non-Native perspective," said Juwan Willow, a citizen of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and a member of UW's Keepers of the Firec

lub. "I think that by changing this narrative we can really start to change the narrative overall."

Willow kicked off Monday's demonstration with a speech. He said Monday's federal holiday, Columbus Day, conjures a painful history of colonial violence.

"My ancestors suffered through hell so that children, and their grandchildren would be here, and because of them I stand before you today. My very existence is the colonizers and settlers greatest failure," Willow said.

Freshman Jaida Cooper, a citizen of the Crow tribe who introduced herself by her Apsalooke name Cedars On the Red Ground, condemned the holiday as racist.

"Indigenous people are tired of the ignorance," she said. "We fight for the next generation. We want our brothers and sisters to grow up in a society where they are and they feel like they are equal."

Students carried signs that said "Indigenous is Beautiful" and "Stop Celebrating Genocide." Many urged the University of Wyoming to join other Universities in acknowledging Indigenous People's Day on its academic calendar.

The demonstration drew a crowd of about 50 students, UW faculty and community members. Native students led the group in a round dance to close out the event.

As part of its Indigenous Peoples Day celebration, the club also welcomed award-winning author Terese Mailhot, from the Seabird Island First Nation in British Columbia, to speak and read from her memoir Heart Berries.

Students noted that November, which is National Native American Heritage Month, will provide more opportunities to celebrate Indigenous people and cultures. The Keepers of the Fire Club is planning more campus events to do just that.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.

Savannah comes to Wyoming Public Media from NPR’s midday show Here & Now, where her work explored everything from Native peoples’ fraught relationship with American elections to the erosion of press freedoms for tribal media outlets. A proud citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, she’s excited to get to know the people of the Wind River reservation and dig into the stories that matter to them.
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