On Oct. 12, UNC Charlotte observed Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time. The formal recognition was directed by Dr. Cheryl Waites Spellman, interim special assistant to the chancellor for diversity and inclusion.
Spellman was inspired by the recent legislation passed on Oct. 8 by the Student Government Organization (SGA) dubbed the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Act. This legislation encouraged the University to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to, “acknowledge and educate the UNC Charlotte community about the historical mistreatment of indigenous people.”
Dick Beekman, the primary sponsor of this legislation, told the Niner Times, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day serves as a way to recognize the various ways the ripples of historic injustice benefit many of us today. Native Americans suffered countless tragic injustices at the hands of European settlers and explorers, and while we cannot undo the mistakes of the past, we can strive towards learning from the stains on our Nation’s history as we aim to grow as a more inclusive society.”
Native American tribes once flourished in present-day Charlotte, including the university area. The Catawba, Waxhaw and Cheraw were major tribes that once lived in close proximity to UNC Charlotte’s campus. These tribes lost their land and many people to the hands of European settlers through enslavement, disease and societal disruption.
The inspiration for this legislation was a personal matter to Beekman. “Shortly after Columbus Day last year, I was speaking to a fellow student, asking her what she wanted to see done around UNC Charlotte," he said. "She was the first student to inform me that UNC Charlotte does not recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day and provided the spark of inspiration for me to reach out to the school and find out what we could do about this,” said Beekman.
This first step towards honoring Natives at UNC Charlotte opens the door for many new opportunities. Brittany Hunt, a UNC Charlotte PhD student and member of the Lumbee tribe, told the Niner Times, “It's phenomenal that UNC Charlotte has taken this first step, but there are many other steps that need to be taken for this campus to be truly pro-Indigneous.”
According to Inside UNC Charlotte, Waites Spellman is organizing campus events for November, designated as National Native American Heritage Month.
“I'm thankful that it's been acknowledged but now my question to the University is: what next?” said Hunt. “I'm looking forward to the hiring of Indigenous faculty, of which there are currently zero.”