“We need to have a celebratory day off where we can actually highlight Indigenous peoples and the work that they’ve done. The culture that they’ve built is critically important to any young people, especially in understanding what it means to a country like America,” said Amy Michael, a Biological Anthropologist at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).
In 2017, Durham was the first community in New Hampshire to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day (IPD) in the place of Columbus Day. This year, because of the switch, there were several events organized by a group of volunteers that took place over the course of three months. One of the events that the group is presenting is the film Dawnland, which will be shown this evening at 6PM at the Durham Public Library. The mission with these events is to inform the community of who the Indigenous people are through historic and present-day lessons.
This is the second year that Durham has hosted events for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The events started on September 23rd and will continue until November 21st with various educational events through lectures, book readings, films, and discussions. The topics range from Native fashion, Indigenous music, Columbus’ journals, and many more subjects in order to appeal to a larger audience. Michael said she thought Durham did a nice job of getting an array of perspectives by having a range of speakers from Indigenous people to activists. For the full list of events, visit durhamipd.org.
The volunteers want to educate community members on Indigenoues people and their role in America’s history. Nancy Lambert, who helps lead Durham United, a program that works on social and justice issues in the community, said that, “IPD is an opportunity to learn and it’s an opportunity to acknowledge a history that has not always been acknowledged, and to acknowledge the pain that people have suffered.”
The film Dawnland is a documentary centered on the government forced separation of Native American children from their parents and placed with white families for most of the 20th century. The film also focuses on the creation of the first government-sanctioned Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Maine. Their job was to gather testimonies and record the impacts of these separations in the state.
Some of the other events that they have scheduled are several PodChats, which are discussions about issues regarding Indigenous people that go along with podcasts. The podcasts can be found at on allmyrelationspodcast.com. They are every Monday at 4:30 pm at Freedom Cafe in Durham until November 18th.
The last event is a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on Indigenous women starting at 2:10 pm on November 21st. According to their schedule, “participants will work with librarians and UNH faculty/staff to increase content about Indigenous women.” The purpose of this event is to better represent Indigenous women on Wikipedia.
Michael, who was director in a forensic lab near Indian reservations working with cases revolving around them in Idaho, traveled to other reservations in neighboring states. She led one of the many events that was hosted in Durham for Indigenous Peoples’ Day called Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. She said that, “it’s erroneous to believe that there was nobody here before Europeans, so to celebrate ‘discoveries’ of the United States is kind of insidious. So I absolutely believe that I can only see good coming out of communities adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day and recognizing Indigenous peoples and the culture that they created in America long before any Europeans were here.”
Denise Pouliot, who is part of the Abenaki Tribe, was a speaker at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women event, along with Amy Michael. She holds up a set of vamps, which are the top part of moccasins, that were made to honor Indigenous women who were murdered or missing.
Michael compared how Indigenous people were recognized when she lived out west as opposed to in New England. She said, “there are lots more reservations out west […] it’s way more common to be confronted with the history of Indigenous people in America when there’s reservations all around you. But if you move out east, towards New England, there’s plenty of Indigenous folks, but there’s no reservations. The visibility isn’t as ‘in your face’ anymore, so I think that this day and this celebration is about visibility.”
Although Durham adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it’s only a town-wide celebration. New Hampshire still recognizes October 14th as Columbus Day. Lambert said, “I think having both [Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day] allows an opportunity to acknowledge the global influence of European settlement in the Americas […] in the sense of the Europeans spreading across the world, [while] at the same time, acknowledging the incredible harm that was done to Indigenous peoples.”
For Lambert, the importance of these events is to educate. She said that, “we have a romanticised view [of Columbus] and I think that Indigneous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity to push back on that a little bit and educate ourselves more completely and what exactly happened and the suffering that took place.”
The event organizers and volunteers have a vision for what their events will bring. “I want people to understand that part of our learning is to make mistakes and to be comfortable in recognizing that. That is not an easy process to undo the tragedy of our past, but that it is our responsibility to take steps forward,” said Kristen Forselius, a volunteer for IPD.