Brown University Students Stage Die-In, Demand Greater Recognition For Native Americans

Activists want the school to observe an annual Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Students staged a "die-in" at the Brown University campus Friday as part of a campaign urging the school to do more to honor Native Americans.

The die-in was scheduled to last 52 minutes and 30 seconds "to signify the 523 years of indigenous resistance since Columbus," according to an event description from the student group Native Americans at Brown.

Friday's event was billed as a "pre-demonstration" for a Monday protest, where students urged the university to change the name of its Fall Weekend Holiday -- a day off from classes that Brown holds on the Monday when many Americans observe Columbus Day -- to "Indigenous Peoples' Day." Seventy-five students had volunteered to be part of the die-in. 

The activism at Brown dovetails with a larger, national conversation about renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day -- the reasoning being that Columbus didn't actually discover America, and that in fact his arrival ushered in an era of slavery and genocide for Native Americans.

At Brown, however, the protest follows a controversy on campus over two op-eds published last week by The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, that were denounced as racist by many students. One of the columns suggested that Native Americans should be thankful for Christopher Columbus, despite his enslaving thousands of natives in North America and sending dogs to hunt and attack people who resisted. The other op-ed argued that marginalization and oppression were linked to human biology. 

The newspaper's editors apologized, saying they'd "crossed the line." Herald editors said the column about Columbus and Native Americans was not supposed to run, but it had been published due to an "internal error." 

Late last week, 14 groups representing black students at the university released a statement calling on the Herald to do more to rectify the columns.

The groups said in the statement that they "rebuke" the newspaper and the author of the two columns, undergraduate M. Dzhali Maier, "for propagating and proliferating racist opinions and erasure, delegitimizing the emotions and trauma of oppressed people, and for issuing a subpar statement, that 'The Herald regrets the publication of the column', [sic] does not adequately acknowledge and apologize for the adverse effects this has had on the undergraduate community."

Both the Herald editors' apology and the statement from the student groups point out that Brown's campus in Providence, Rhode Island, sits on land that used to belong to the Narragansett and Wampanoag nations. 

Photos appear with permission from Danielle Perelman Photography.


Tyler Kingkade covers higher education and is based in New York. You can contact him at or on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.


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