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St. Olaf and Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Performative activism fails to change campus culture

Oct. 10 of this year marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States, a holiday in Northfield that celebrates the history and contributions of Indigenous Peoples. At St. Olaf, it seemed as though the only ones raising awareness about the holiday was the Taylor Center for Inclusion and Equity. They sent out an email to the St. Olaf community about events that would take place on campus. These “events” consisted of a display between Buntrock Commons and Rolvaag Library and a panel that was led by the Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC). BORSC has no Indigenous Peoples on their committee. It’s clear to us that St. Olaf is scraping by these issues in doing the bare minimum. The holiday is celebrated just enough to maintain a “progressive” image, but in actuality this distracts the community from the fact that the school exists on stolen land, and is not addressing the continued harm they are causing the Dakota and Ojibwe Peoples. 

The same week as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, on Oct. 14, the Queen of Norway visited campus. Students stood for over 30 minutes outside, shoved up against the railings by the Cage, holding small red, white and blue flags and craning their necks so they could lay eyes on Her Majesty. The irony is clear as day — seeing that just days earlier St. Olaf claimed to be working toward a decolonized future and lifting those who have been colonized. This begs the question — how can St. Olaf bring the Queen of Norway, a leader of a former colonizing power with long lasting effects, to campus, but not a single Indigenous guest speaker? How can the institution not give a platform for Indigenous Peoples to be heard on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but just a few days later proceed to stop all campus traffic for the procession of a colonizer?   

St. Olaf might have a land acknowledgment, which I’m sure they routinely recited at the panel on IPD, but not once do they mention the words “colonization,” “stolen land,” or “genocide.” On top of this, the land acknowledgment lays out no action steps toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), although they claim: “we acknowledge the ongoing injustices that we have committed against the Dakota Nation, and we wish to interrupt this legacy, beginning with acts of healing and honest storytelling about this place.” This is performative activism — and it manifests itself in the Land Acknowledgement statement that graces the bottom of the emails from the administration that circle the St. Olaf community. It’s clear that their focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is only in the interest of the schools public image. The only thing this flawed activism does is put new tuition money in the administration’s pockets, and responsibility falls on the students to speak up for what’s right and change the Ole culture that currently exists. 

Sophia Schillinger is from Cedar Falls, Iowa

Her major is sociology/anthropology.

Jacqui Mendoza Perez is from Minneapolis, Minn.

Her majors are sociology/anthropology and race and ethnic studies with an education concentration.