It was a historic evening for Montclair State University as people came together to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day for the first time on Oct. 10. The ceremony kicked off commemorating Montclair State’s new Native American and Indigenous studies minor and honored Indigenous people’s heritage.
Students presented the formal adoption of Montclair State’s native land acknowledgment, the first among New Jersey colleges and universities.
Following the statement, President Jonathan Koppell shed light on the significance of land acknowledgment and his personal experience in learning tribal cultures as well as policy issues affecting tribes during his time in Arizona.
“Working with leaders of tribal nations and their 23 recognized federal tribes in Arizona, I was really moved by the ability of leaders to operate in the present while being conscious of the injustice of the past, operate in the present with an incredibly constructive perspective and work towards the betterment of their people,” Koppell said.
Former Montclair State student and member of the Nanticoke Tribe, Brianna Dagostino, spoke about why Indigenous People’s day is something that should not be taken lightly. While Dagostino is happy that Indigenous people are now federally recognized, she begs the question of why it took a good amount of time to do so due to the “racist and Eucentric past.”
“Indigenous peoples day is a day of recognizing the Indigenous people of America,” Dagostino said. “But it’s also a day of mourning the ancestors that we lost when Christopher Columbus came over and enslaved and massacred the Indigenous tribes of The Caribbean. While I’m happy that [Indigenous People’s Day] has finally become a federal holiday, I’m appalled that it took this long for the government to realize how racist Columbus Day was. It is time for all of us to recognize and respect the people who nurtured this land that we call home.”
Dagostino continues to ensure that Indigenous people are well-respected and represented, she thanks Montclair State for taking that step forward.
Urie Ridgeway, the host of the ceremony and member of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe, told the meaning behind each performance. In between performances, Ridgeway would explain the history of Indigenous people and erase the stereotypical assumptions about them. Ridgeway tells the audience to pay attention to the details in the performances. The Red Blanket Singers told the story of Indigenous people through different dances and songs.
“The women would pack up the teepees, and they will follow those buffalo herds going to a new place to set their camp,” Ridgeway said. “The tall grass was there so they would send out dancers to go and stomp it down. Now watch them as they’re out there dancing, watch that balance; they have a lot of times what they’ll do with the left foot, they will do with the right foot or vice versa. They keep that balance. They keep that harmony.”
Even though the music of the Red Blanket Singers doesn’t have lyrics, there is rhythm that holds meaning.
“When our tribes got together they were forced off our vans,” Ridgewood said. “You didn’t know each other’s languages. So a lot of our songs would be just vocals, so we can sing together.”
It was an unforgettable learning experience for some and enjoyable for others to see Indigenous culture and traditions come alive.
Christina Chalmers, a junior medical humanities major, was grateful to learn more about Indigenous people.
“I didn’t learn much in school,” Chalmers said. “I remember only learning a little something in the fifth grade. I’m just trying to learn more about it, so I wanted to come to see what this was about, and it was nice to absorb all of the performances today.”
Torin Jacobs II, a senior exercise science major and member of the Yupik and Inupiaq tribes, believe it shouldn’t have taken so long to get to how Indigenous people are recognized today. He emphasizes that there are more issues to take on but admires the steps Montclair State is taking.
“It’s a shame that this is the first year that something like this has happened,” Jacobs said. “But this is a good first step in the right direction. There has been a lot of stuff wrong in the past, but going forward this is a good thing to see.”
Minami Gonzalez, a senior anthropology major, says it was refreshing to see more representation of Indigenous people in America.
“I felt like I was basically reliving the memories,” Gonzalez said. “It was nice to see more native peoples in the U.S. and New Jersey represented and being very vocal about our history and bringing to light some of the issues that we have been facing.”
Duncan Munson, a grass and hoop dancer and singer, wants people to keep one thing in mind.
“Remember that we’re still here and not a thing of the past,” Munson said. “Our songs and our dance styles may be old, but we’ll be able to share and showcase them on a much larger scale and with a voice of our own. It’s not something you read in a history book; it’s from people of today.”