Five simple words.
Not much really, but for Lupe Sims, when the challenge of completing a master’s program while simultaneously working to alter a longstanding Southern Oregon University policy seemed like a little much, those five words reverberated in her mind and kept her going.
The words were “Bring me what you have,” and they were uttered last September by Southern Oregon University president Linda Schott in response to Sims’ plea that the university break from tradition and recognize Indigenous Peoples Day the second Monday of October, a date which the U.S. has observed as the federal holiday Columbus Day since 1937.
Schott, then only a few months into her new job, was attending a meeting by SOU’s diversity and inclusion oversight committee in the Stevenson Union’s Guanajuato Room when Sims, a member, asked the new president directly if she would consider altering SOU’s calendar. Schott said she didn’t know why the school hadn’t done so already, would consider it and added the words that inspired Sims for months.
“Those words, ‘Bring me what you have,’ were the driving force behind my actions,” Sims said.
And those actions turned out to be impactful, as Southern Oregon announced on June 15 that the school would henceforth celebrate the contributions and cultural significance of Native Americans by observing Indigenous Peoples Day.
The move came after Sims and the diversity and inclusion oversight committee presented the proposal to three governing boards on campus — the University Planning Board, Faculty Senate and Associated Students of Southern Oregon University — and each approved the request unanimously (afterward, Sims was told that was a first). Indigenous Peoples Day will indeed be celebrated the second Monday of October, and the school will sponsor a celebration similar to that of Veterans Day at SOU. According to a press release, no classes will be canceled, but the occasion will be observed through “special programming.”
“The indigenous cultures that have evolved in the Americas for millennia are certainly worthy of acknowledgement and have particular relevance to our state, in which nine sovereign tribes are recognized,” Schott said in the release. “SOU has a vibrant population of Native American students, and this celebration will honor the legacies of their families and ancestors.
“This will provide an excellent opportunity for all of our students to learn more about the non-European history of our region and our country.”
SOU’s move is part of a growing movement to shift the day’s focus from the Italian explorer whose four voyages across the Atlantic led to a mass colonization of the Americas. Now, what began as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day in 1992 has grown to include four states and at least 40 U.S. cities, including Portland, Eugene and Corvallis.
Sims — who describes herself as a White Mountain Apache who is also Hispanic, black and Welch — said by adding the day to its calendar, SOU made a statement that the voices of indigenous people matters.
“Our voices count, and we can … create positive change, and that’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “And to see it come full circle is a dream for me. But the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day goes beyond SOU, goes beyond Ashland, goes beyond even our state, and I want the indigenous people of this community to feel important and to feel welcome at this school.”
What the day will look like on campus has yet to be determined, but Marjorie Trueblood-Gamble, SOU’s director of diversity and inclusion, said the hope is that the celebration will include several local entities.
“We look forward to partnering this coming fall with (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and hopefully the city of Ashland to do something even bigger than our own campus in thinking about what an observance of Indigenous Peoples Day might look like.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.