My First Indigenous Peoples’ Day


(Why am I naming days?)
10/12/15, Day 14,404 (Mercena Day 424): My First Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Yesterday was my first Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Now, I’d been aware before yesterday that a national holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus was absurd. I knew his record of personal cruelty and exploitation, and the enormity of suffering and loss that his arrival set in motion, but that didn’t translate into any action on my part. What could I possibly do? This is the United States, where we absurdly celebrate many cruel people and painful tragedies. Our country’s nostalgic amnesia is so powerful that even when I learned to see it, I didn’t recognize that could be changed. My privilege gave me that indignant passivity, that outrage without action, that ability to look without seeing, listen without hearing, touch without feeling.

That all changed thanks to my friend and colleague Ty Defoe, who catalyzed a movement at Theatre Communications Group to reclaim Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Thanks to his courage and generosity, I began to understand and feel myself the sheer depth of pain caused by this day; how it contributes to the erasure of Indigenous peoples living now, and how that invisibility empowers the systemic oppressions our government and culture continue to commit; how the open wound of the American Holocaust will only heal through truth, reconciliation, reparation, and the commitment of non-native peoples to wrestle with the full complexity and complicity of our histories on this land.

Most of all, Ty helped me to see that it could be changed.

After all, we were only asking for the sign in our hallways to change, along with our Outlook calendars and away messages. Such a small act, and yet from such small acts, the gristly machine of colonialism and capitalism that we continue to feed can be interrupted, and in those moment of interruption, we can breathe; and then we can work together to dismantle the whole damn thing.

Such a small thing ended up taking a surprising amount of work, and the process was not always easy. But, our process needed to take the time it took, because the process was just as important as the outcome. We needed this victory of reclaiming Indigenous Peoples’ Day to belong to the whole organization, and I think we came as close to that goal as possible. That’s thanks to the work of a great many people, including TCG’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion workgroup, and I’ll name a few here that feel particularly important to thank: Ty, Dafina McMillan, Chloe Brown, JP Smith (Beto O’Byrne), Laurie Baskin, Ilana Rose, Teresa Eyring, Kevin Moore, Annabel Guevara, and Carmen Morgan.

Such a small thing, but from such small victories movements are made. A little change makes you hungry for more. And I spent the late night of my Indigenous Peoples’ Day working on a project with Ty, Anna Rahn, and Madeline Sayet that wrestles with that more famous cousin of Columbus Day, Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for more on that shortly, but here’s a cute picture of our recent #NETdate:

NET Date

Yesterday was also a day of personal remembrance, as it’s the day Heather’s father left this world. It’s a pain that is renewed through the joys of Mercena. If only, if only. He can’t help but be in her life, living through Heather, through Cathy and Sandra, through all the ways we’ll find to connect her to his memory, but if only…

Life is so precious, and love and art are the ways I remember that. Yesterday was a day of love, art, and memory, and I hope it was for you, too.

Published by CorinnaSchulenburg

Artist and Activist

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