Indigenous Peoples' Day

October 4, 2016

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

I am pleased to share with you that Seattle University is formally recognizing the second Monday of October, beginning with Oct. 10 this year, as Indigenous People’s Day.

I hope you will join me in celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day at an event from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 10, in the 2nd floor gallery of Sullivan Hall. Sponsored by the Native American Law Students Association, Access to Justice Institute and Center for Indian Law and Policy, the celebration will feature a prayer by Pat Twohy, S.J., and a talk by Brooke Pinkham, staff director of the center. (You are encouraged to RSVP here.)

It is critical that our university recognizes in this and other ways our special relationship with the Native peoples of this region. The very acreage upon which our university sits is the ancestral land of the Duwamish people. Today, visitors entering our campus from the west are greeted by a statue of Chief Sealth, or Chief Seattle, the great leader for whom our city and, hence, our university is named. Those walking along the south side of our upper mall encounter the Vi taqwšəblu Hilbert Ethnobotanical Garden, named for another outstanding Native American leader of our region. Chief Seattle and Vi Hilbert are also featured along with Billy Frank, Jr. in three murals recently installed at the Student Center. These and other visible and unseen manifestations remind us that our history as a Jesuit university is intertwined with, and inseparable from, the histories of the indigenous peoples of this region.

But we must do more than simply look back on this shared heritage. We must confront with openness and honesty those instances in which we, as a university, have not lived up to the ideals of our mission in our engagement with Native peoples. And most important we must, in a spirit of hopefulness, move forward as a campus community toward becoming ever more inclusive, affirming and compassionate—particularly when it comes to the people who were here in this region long before anyone else.

There are a number of groups on campus committed to elevating awareness of Native American issues, including those that are hosting the Oct. 10 celebration as well as the Indigenous Initiative, led by Associate Professor of English Christina Roberts and Father Twohy. (The Indigenous Initiative was instrumental in facilitating the installation of the murals in the Student Center and is engaged in a variety of other ways, too.) I am grateful to all of these entities for their efforts even as I stress that the work they are doing should not be theirs alone. Each of us is called to be involved in whatever ways we can and particularly to educate ourselves on these important issues.

As Indigenous Peoples’ Day approaches, let us all take some time to contemplate with gratitude how blessed we are by the Native peoples in our community and to pray for continued wisdom and guidance as we all strive together to build a more humane and a more just university, city, region and world.

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.