BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech will celebrate the indigenous people of the Americas on the second Monday of October, a day normally reserved for observing the accomplishments of Christopher Columbus.
The university further encouraged Virginia to cease celebrating Columbus Day and honor indigenous people on the state holiday.
On Monday, President Tim Sands approved a resolution passed by the University Council to observe the day at Tech in the future. Indigenous Peoples Day at Virginia Tech will be celebrated on Monday, Oct. 14, this year.
The staff holiday will show up on Tech’s academic calendar. The university will have a number of events around the date, though classes will still be in session. Columbus Day remains a state holiday.
The University Council is a 75-member body of faculty, administrators and staff that makes university policy advisories to Sands as part of shared governance. Commissions recommend policies to the council, which recommends them to the president.
The change in holiday resolution originated with Tech’s Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity last year after it was pushed by the student organization Native at Virginia Tech.
The university commission “acknowledges that it is beyond the scope of the commission and University Council to call for a change in state law to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day as a state holiday, yet wishes to go on record advocating for such a change in the law.”
The new holiday designation marks a major incremental victory that students hope will reverberate beyond Blacksburg, said Jason Chavez, a political science student and member of Native at Virginia Tech.
Chavez said he and fellow students want to end celebration of Columbus, whom he labeled a “mass murderer,” for his actions and writings toward the indigenous people occupying the Americas upon his arrival in 1492.
Celebrating Columbus after he started a “mass genocide” across two continents is “very offensive,” Chavez said, adding that he hopes it gets the ball rolling on future action to rid the state of Columbus Day.
The Native at Virginia Tech students have been advocating for the school to pass the resolution since they wrote a letter requesting the change to Sands and Tech’s board of visitors in April. They have been persisting in advocating for Indigenous Peoples Day on campus ever since, he said.
“It’s very inspiring to have this,” Chavez said. “It affirms our existence.”
The Tech resolution specifically recognizes and honors the Monacan-Tutelo people, “the historical stewards and traditional custodians of the land now occupied by Virginia Tech.” It also honors Tech’s indigenous students and acknowledges past discrimination in Virginia against American Indians.
Last year, the university held an Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 8, after Sands issued a presidential policy memorandum.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to InclusiveVT, we seek to demonstrate our respect for Tutelo/Monacan Nations and become more inclusive for all indigenous people who are part of our community,” Sands wrote in an open letter to the campus community about the decision.
In a letter offered as the official statement of Tech’s Graduate Student Assembly in support of passing the resolution, history graduate student John Legg wrote advocating for Tech to honor indigenous people.
The move is an important one to make for the benefit of people who come to campus in the future, he wrote.
“It is our duty to give students the accurate history, a wholesome history that includes indigenous peoples and their importance to our society,” wrote Legg, who studies Native American and Civil War-era history.
“Virginia Tech should ... recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on campus, a message that further solidifies the fact that Indigenous peoples have always been here, they are here now, and they are not going anywhere.”