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Columbus Day at MSU: ‘Pioneer’ Title Regrets, Pres Says ‘Rethink History,' and More

Author: Sergei Kelley

At Michigan State University, calls to remove ‘pioneer’ from the college nickname, to ‘rethink history,’ and to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, mark this year’s Columbus Day.

Sharing a photo of MSU’s Rock, which reads “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,'' President Samuel Stanley stated, “Michigan State University was formed through ceded land from the 1819 Treaty of Saginaw and the 1862 Morrill Act. Today we honor historic and contemporary Indigenous peoples. I encourage you to listen, learn, and rethink history.”

The nickname, “The Nation’s Pioneer Land Grant College,” is “problematic,” claims MSU’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies department. They “recommend it no longer be used” within their ‘Land Acknowledgement’ statement.

The department is within the College of Arts and Letters.

The college further says Land Acknowledgement statements help “illuminate ongoing Indigenous presence, as well as recognize and counter settler-colonial legacies of violence and Land expropriation.”

Flyers placed by MSU in the McDonel dorm in 2019, called Columbus’s discovery “a complete lie” and advocated for “Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Not Columbus Day.”

On October 12, the Communication Arts and Science college hosted an “Understanding the Land Acknowledgement Statement” event with Ojibway tribal member Donald Lyons. Reciting the statement is important to recognize a responsibility to the land and a way to “change the narrative,” Lyons said.

MSU’s official land statement says, “we affirm indigenous sovereignty and will work to hold Michigan State University more accountable to the needs of American Indians and indigenous people.”

[RELATED STORY: ANALYSIS: MSU’s Misguided “Native Sovereignty” Over University Lands]

Other college-affiliated groups calling to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day include the MSU Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, MSU LGBT Resource Center, MSU Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, Department of Theatre, and others.

"Columbus doesn't deserve credit" MSU's North American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO) told The Morning Watch. "We just don't recognize him on this day, but for remembering all of the indigenous people that were here, and that are here, today. To celebrate life."

MSU student Anthony Russo said, “I view Columbus as an American hero. Case closed.”

The Morning Watch reached out to other groups and individuals who either declined or did not respond before publication.

Updated 10/12 at 1:45PM to include more comments.

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