To the Editor:
Princeton Council has just taken a major step forwards to truth-telling and social justice, voting unanimously on Monday night in favor of the “Resolution Declaring that the Second Monday in October Shall Be Known as Indigenous Peoples Day” in Princeton. The Resolution is the result of months-long work by an ad hoc committee of the Civil Rights Commission, to whom much thanks should be given. I was pleased to have served on that committee.
Here are some major points:
The Municipality of Princeton “offer[s] respect” to the regional indigenous peoples in our area, the Lenni-Lenape, around Ewing and Bridgeton (to the south), who once occupied a huge territory stretching from Albany to the Delmarva peninsula before their forced removal to Ohio and elsewhere by Euro-Americans. The Resolution also “honors” them for their “practices of environmental sustainability,” their holistic understanding of the world, and “their cultural resilience throughout this nation’s troubled history. And it acknowledges that European colonists built Princeton itself on this small portion of the vast ancestral lands known as Lenapihoking.
Further, the Resolution rejects “systemic racism and oppression that targets all minority and indigenous peoples.” It then continues by stating, correctly, that Indigenous Peoples Day will help all of us to seek and develop “truthful representations and acknowledgements of wrongs committed by European colonists and their descendants,” who since the 16th century “engaged in forced removals of indigenous peoples from their homelands and committed acts that nearly exterminated them.”
This statement tells the truth sharply and concisely; it is appropriately painful to those of us who carry the historical (and present) baggage of oppressive behavior and attitudes we’ve received earlier without examination.
Thus, the Resolution firmly stresses the need for accurate education. It charges the Civil Rights Commission with collaborating “with community partners to develop annual programming and educational outreach” events to commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day.” It further commends the Princeton Public Schools for their efforts “to revise distorted histories of ‘Indians’”; many of us may remember our games of ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ or the feathers or tomahawks we wanted as children (at least the white boys)—without a mention of landgrabs for the sake of land and natural resources (as now, with the Dakota Access Pipeline).
Indeed, the success of instituting our annual Indigenous Peoples Day will hopefully prompt all of us to engage in confronting our stereotypes and engaging the unspoken realities of white American predatory attitudes towards indigenous peoples. We should all be encouraged to reach a more authentic basis for new understandings.
With appropriate programming in place, we should all thank Princeton Council and the Civil Rights Commission for its spurs to revised awareness and thinking.