Indigenous Peoples' Day

October 11, 2021

Dear Campus Community,

Today, Seattle University marks the significance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day to honor and celebrate Indigenous peoples and to acknowledge the toil of colonization as reflected by the land we occupy as a university. We recognize that Seattle University is located on the ancestral homelands of the Duwamish people. We pay respect to Coast Salish Elders past and present and extend that respect to their descendants and to all Indigenous people.

The origin of Indigenous Peoples’ Day reaches back to 1977 and the first International NGO Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, and beginning in 1991, many cities began a movement to recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day as a step toward recognizing the harmful legacies of the doctrine of discovery and North American colonization. In 2014 and as a direct result of community activism, the City of Seattle declared the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and Seattle University officially adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2016. We acknowledge that changing the name of one day cannot fully address historical wrongs or adequately honor the gifts and contributions of Indigenous peoples. Yet, it remains an important step in changing our orientation to our shared history.

This year's commemoration carries particular poignance and calls for deeper reflection. As a Jesuit Catholic university, we are on a journey to understand and reconcile the participation of our own broader community in past injustices. We grieve over the recent news about the unmarked graves of Indigenous children near residential schools in Canada. In recent months, thousands of unmarked graves in numerous locations make real what many Indigenous communities have known for generations: Indigenous youth were not only subjected to awful abuses in these schools, but many lost their lives as a direct result of neglect, abuse, and the forced removal from their families and extended kinship networks. We must embrace a fuller narrative of the history and cultural features that continue to thwart the full actualization of Indigenous people and deprive all of us of the rich heritage and gifts that come through the presence and full inclusion of students, faculty, and staff of Indigenous descent.

On August 11, 2021, the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States (“JCCU”) issued a statement on the boarding schools. We share the following extended excerpt from that statement:

We grieve deeply the loss of human life and culture that took place at such schools, both in Canada and the United States, and we acknowledge that the Society of Jesus participated in that history. . . . We regret our participation in the separation of families and the suppression of Native languages, cultures and sacred ways of life. While these practices and our participation in such schools ended decades ago, their traumatic effects have continued to reverberate through the generations and are still very present with many today. . . . We welcome the recent establishment of the Indian Boarding School Initiative by the Department of the Interior in the United States, with which we will cooperate. . . . Reconciliation is central to the mission of the Society of Jesus, but to prepare for the healing work of reconciliation, knowledge of our history and mutual understanding are needed first. With our Native sisters and brothers, we grieve the losses of the past and the pain that continues to this day. We also look forward to a better future, built on a foundation of truth and mutual respect. (Read the full statement here)

Consistent with the JCCU’s recognition that truth is a necessary predecessor to reconciliation, and in keeping with our special responsibility as a university for seeking the truth, this fall, Seattle University will be hosting a number of events to help us engage in that necessary reflection. 

  • Today (Oct. 11) the Social Justice Monday lunchtime lecture, noon–12:50 p.m., will focus on "Landback: A Campaign for the Return of Indigenous Lands," sponsored by SU's Native American Law Students Association and Center for Indian Law and Policy. 
  • Tomorrow (Oct. 12), Maka Black Elk from the Red Cloud Indian School will give a Zoom talk at 4 p.m. entitled “Is Healing Possible? Confronting Catholic Indian boarding school history.” Details and registration here.
  • Later this month, on Monday, October 25 from 6 to 8 p.m., the Indigenous Peoples Institute will host its 2nd annual "Honoring Indigenous Voices: Interweaving the Work of Storytelling and its Relationship to Inner Growth" and will feature panelists who will discuss intergenerational trauma specifically surrounding mandated residential and boarding schools for First Nations and Native American youth. Details and registration information can be found here. 

These events build on engagement of the 2018-2019 academic year, when Tulalip, From My Heart by Harriette Shelton Dover (Snohomish) served as the common text for all incoming students and invited our entire SU community to engage in challenging conversations about this poignant legacy and the ongoing realities of settler colonialism through Harriette’s first-hand account of abuse endured locally at the Tulalip Indian Boarding School. You can find more resources on this issue here.

We invite you to participate in these campus conversations as we grapple with the painful history of the boarding schools as a path toward reconciliation. We also invite you to continue incorporating a land acknowledgment at Seattle University events throughout the academic year as a beginning practice of paying attention to our shared stories. In addition, consider actions you can take to advance the goal of justice for Native peoples.

We also encourage faculty, staff, and students to identify additional ways we can honor, listen, celebrate, receive, share, and complicate the stories of this region.


Eduardo M. Peñalver, President 

Natasha Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion