Harvard to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day

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Whereas through the good hand of God many well devoted persons have been and daily are moved and stirred up to give and bestow sundry gifts legacies lands and revenues for the advancement of all good literature arts and sciences in Harvard College in Cambridge in the County of Middlesex and to the maintenance of the President and Fellows and for all accommodations of buildings and all other necessary provisions that may conduce to the education of the English and Indian youth of this country in knowledge and godliness.

—Charter of 1650

To President Lawrence Bacow, Provost Alan Garber, Executive Vice President Katharine Lapp, Registrar Michael Burke, and the Harvard community:

We, Indigenous students of Harvard University and our peers, remain aware of the University’s failure to legitimize Indigenous Peoples’ Day through its continued recognition of “Columbus Day” on the academic calendar.  While other universities, cities, and states now rebuke recognition of “Columbus Day,” both the College and University, per the Registrar, maintain “Columbus Day” as an official University holiday. The Undergraduate Council has previously endorsed a petition “for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to be completely recognized on Harvard’s calendar,” and the Graduate School of Education and Medical School revoked their recognition of “Columbus Day” in lieu of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  The City of Cambridge has followed suit in solidarity with countless other communities across the United States. In 2017, Harvard quietly changed its calendar to jointly recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day with “Columbus Day” (with the former designated a City of Cambridge holiday and the latter as a Federal holiday).  To jointly recognize both with precedence given to “Columbus Day” is a stinging rebuke to the many Indigenous students whose education Harvard has a stated commitment to induce.


Harvard retains the oldest academic charter in the United States: the Charter of 1650.  In the Charter––said to be upheld to this day––Harvard committed itself to the specific mission of educating “the English and Indian youth of this country in knowledge and godliness.”  This commitment prompted the creation of the Harvard Indian College and ultimate matriculation of several Indigenous alumni, including Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck (Wampanoag), whose portrait hangs in Annenberg Hall.  As shown, Harvard has a clear commitment to Indigenous students, and we demand this commitment be affirmed. This starts with the proper recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the removal of “Columbus Day” from our calendar.


The time has come for Harvard to choose the right side of history.  The time has come for University administration to erase the name “Columbus Day” from the October academic holiday. The time has come for our peers in the Harvard community to join Indigenous peoples as we work to create accurate and respectful historical narratives, in which our ways of life are celebrated and validated, rather than ignored and undermined.


As such, we demand Harvard adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day as the official University holiday and remove “Columbus Day” from its calendar. This change –– one that requires little of the University and its officials –– is one step toward creating a more equitable and welcoming Harvard for Indigenous students. The University must fully and visibly recommit to its ideals of diversity and inclusion with the refusal to celebrate a man whose actions conduced the brutalization, enslavement, and deaths of millions of our ancestors and relatives across the Americas. Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Harvard must be a day that memorializes and attests to the resilience and persistence of Indigenous peoples and our histories. It must not be a day characterized by protests and pleas to be recognized, but by celebration of Harvard’s Indigenous legacy with Indigenous performances, food, art, and discourse.


For over five centuries, Indigenous peoples have resisted violence, oppression, and marginalization to provide our future generations a life of dignity, equal opportunity, and empowerment. However, Indigenous people cannot do this alone. Together, Indigenous communities and allies alike can forge new ways of celebrating and supporting our communities that include, not exclude, the diverse body of Harvard University. Harvard exists as a beacon in higher education; by recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our University will lead the push toward greater inclusion and accurately honor its historic charter, represent the ongoing cultivation of diversity on campus, and pave the way for future growth.

Ahéhee’, Yakoke, Pinagigi, Quyana, Mahalo nui loa, Qaĝaasakung, Kepiihcihi, Pidamayapi, Miigwech, ᏩᏙ, Mvto,  Ahí’ííyeéh, Askwali, Kwa’kway, Nia:wen, Tle koo, Philámayayapi, Thank you.

Native Americans at Harvard College