Defying the odds, student campaign persuades schoolboard to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Photo courtesy of the Native American and Indigenous Alliance

By Kate Snyder

Thanks to three determined students at Northstar Middle School in Eau Claire, WI, the Eau Claire Area School Board unanimously passed a resolution on October 9 to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, taking effect next school year.

“I was really looking forward to this year of school,” said Miinan White, an eighth grader at Northstar Middle and a member of both the Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk tribes. “We had been celebrating Columbus Day throughout all my years of school and I knew Ms. CS (Carlson Sather) would help me understand how to change things. Native Americans have survived over 100 years of murder and discrimination—my great grandmother was put in a boarding school. I knew of other places that celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day and it would be really cool if we could celebrate in our school.”

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“From a teacher’s perspective it was really fun to watch the students collaborate, and they were able to give each other ideas. We were able to talk about language and tone. They knew they would not have the support of everyone, so we talked about how to get the message across in a positive way,” said Amy Carlson Sather, the student’s seventh grade social sciences teacher.

Four weeks after the first meeting Miinan, Emma Heck and Cailey Stolt had with Carlson Sather, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution was approved unanimously by the School Board and the next day the city of Eau Claire also passed a resolution. Over the course of those four weeks the students developed remarks, met with their principals, spoke at the ECASD school board to introduce the idea of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, collaborated with a school board member who asked for their input on the resolution, organized their fellow students and spoke at the open hearing on the resolution.

“Ms. CS helped us before and after school and at lunch. We would come in and write down ideas. We practiced our speech with her,” explained Miinan.

“We made up cards for all of the board members that said—Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Kids signed it who were supportive, and we gave them to each board member. At least 30 people signed each card over a day,” continued Cailey.

“It was really important to us, knowing how Miinan felt and knowing her culture, to help change things. We wanted to make it so everyone could feel included. The celebration of Columbus Day didn’t include everyone,” said Emma.

The resolution did not pass without opposition. Members of the Knights of Columbus were at the hearing. While they did not follow protocol and sign up to speak during the hearing, they were interviewed by one of the local television stations outside of the room.

“That was really difficult, but the girls were prepared. One of the great things about this age is that students are inherently concerned about fairness,” said Carlson Sather. “This is why I teach. These students stood up for something they believe and for their friend. They want to be inclusive and be joyful. It makes me hopeful.”

Learn more about the history of Columbus Day from the series, Correct(ed), by guest author James Loewen.

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