For many students, meeting the statue of Abraham Lincoln after a trek up Bascom Hill is part of a normal day at UW-Madison. However, some students of indigenous descent view Lincoln’s post overlooking campus as a reminder of the suffering of their ancestors at his command.
Wunk Sheek, an indigenous student organization, and roughly 50 supporters gathered in front of the statue Monday afternoon in an effort to Blackout Columbus Day and promote Indigenous People’s Day.
According to Emily (Bad River Ojibwe), co-president of traditional relations for Wunk Sheek, the city of Madison already recognizes the holiday as Indigenous People’s Day, but the organization wants to see it on campus calendars as well.
“When you think about Columbus most of the time you think about him as a great person, when really he brought on a lot of death and illnesses to the native people that lived here,” said UW-Madison student
UW-Madison “generally does not declare official holidays or days of recognition,” as the university just follows the already-established guidelines from state agencies and the Board of Regents, according to Director of University Communications John Lucas.
According to Misha (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe), co-president of fiscal relations for Wunk Sheek, the demonstration was oriented not only around raising awareness about Columbus, but also about Lincoln’s role in native history.
In 1862, Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men, making it the largest mass execution ordered by a U.S. president, according to leaders in Wunk Sheek. For this reason, the organization chose to hold the demonstration in front of his statue on Bascom. A sign hung around Lincoln’s neck describing the execution and ended with “#DecolonizeOurCampus.”
The demonstration was staged as a “die-in” in which supporters laid on the ground in solidarity with the executed Dakota men. The die-in began at 12:26 p.m. to honor the Dec. 26 date of the execution, and lasted for 38 minutes to honor the 38 executed men.
“Everyone thinks of Lincoln as the great, you know, freer of slaves, but let’s be real: He owned slaves, and as natives, we want people to know that he ordered the execution of native men,” Misha said. “Just to have him here at the top of Bascom is just really belittling.”
The demonstration also served to raise awareness of and provide a voice for the indigenous community on and around the UW-Madison campus.
“It’s very important that our culture be revived in a way so that people know that yes, Native Americans do exist, whether it’s mixed race or Native American in general,” said Wunk Sheek member Justus (Choctaw Nation). “It’s very important that things like this happen to get our voices out there, to let them know that we, too, are part of the minority on this campus and around the world.”