Members of the American Indian Student Association installed a display in the Sierra Quad on Oct. 10 featuring colorful feathers meant to recognize the 58 million indigenous people that they claim died as a result of the explorations of Christopher Columbus.
“We’re using the feathers to educate people about the destruction,” said Virginia Diego, president of AISA.
Diego, a biology and Chicano/a Studies double major, said there were 1,000 feathers tied to bamboo sticks with red yarn, each representing 58,000 murdered and raped indigenous people, installed in the quad.
“Red symbolizes the blood that has been spread through slavery and torture,” Diego said.
“The feathers signify the spirit of our ancestors,” said Tim Belfield, AISA member and former president.
Belfield, a geography major, said they used orange, yellow, green, blue and red to represent five beliefs of indigenous people: faith, reciprocity, continuity, humanity, and diversity.
Other items on display included four displays that contained facts about indigenous people, quotes from Columbus, and visual representations of his landing. A prop board stated what each feather represented.
Diego contacted the Central American United Student Association, the Black Student Union, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan, to ask if the organizations would be interested in participating in the creation of the displays.
Volunteers from M.E.Ch.A. helped AISA by sticking bamboo sticks into the ground.
Karina Ceja, senior Chicano/a Studies major and member of M.E.Ch.A., volunteered to help AISA with the feathers.
“I think it’s an injustice that we teach our children that Columbus Day was a great day of discovery,” Ceja said. “When we become parents, we should let them know the truth.”
She said that Mexico was also colonized by the Spaniards, so M.E.Ch.A. members hold Columbus Day events like this close to their hearts.
“We’re not here to say we’re anti-Columbus Day. We don’t want to be throwing this in people’s faces,” Ceja said. “We just want to remember all the indigenous people.”
“We welcome indigenous people all over the world,” Diego said. “We’re trying to work as a community on campus and we want to help each other out. We’re working as brothers and sisters.”
Diego is an active student on campus. She has attended M.E.Ch.A meetings, as well as meetings for the Asian American Studies Student Association. Diego said she simply wants to be informed about her surroundings.
Diego said that last semester during a bread sale on campus, a student approached AISA’s table and asked if the members were really “Indians.” Diego informed the student that yes, they were really “Indians”, to which the student replied, “I thought you guys were dead.” Diego said she was shocked..
“I don’t blame (the student’s) ignorance because that’s what we’ve been taught,” Diego said. “We’re still being discriminated (against). We’re still being left behind.”
The feather display was initially planned to be set up in front of Bayramian Hall, formerly the Student Services Building, because the Black Student Union had planned to use Sierra Lawn for their display of the 10th-year anniversary of the Million Man March.
But the BSU cancelled their display, allowing the AISA to use the lawn for their display.
Hector Ramirez, spokesperson of AISA, said the association, like other groups on campus, is very communal.
“We’re very accepting of everybody,” Ramirez said. “The thing that connects us to our ancestors is blood spilled.”
Belfield said the idea behind using feathers as a display came from the recent pinwheel project the Women’s Resource and Research Center displayed last spring.
“That’s probably the first time anything like that was done,” Belfield said. “We’re just trying to bring greater awareness with the other side of the story.”
Belfield added that the feathers were symbolic of Native Americans. He said that CSUN did not recognize Columbus Day as a holiday, but instead university officials passed a resolution to observe the day as Indigenous Peoples of the Americas Day, also known as Dia de la Raza.
“By having this resolution, it reinforces the bond we have with M.E.Ch.A.,” Belfield said.
Darrell Simmons, humanities major and AISA member, created the feather display.
Simmons is from the Choctaw tribe, and is known as Bear. He works full time, attends to school full time, and is a father, yet he still has enough time to be active on campus. He said the creation of the display gives students an opportunity to recognize the Native Americans who died in the years after 1492.
Belfield said the display was not created to go against any specific race or ethnicity.
“People died because of the exploits of (Christopher Columbus).” Belfield said. “His men killed four million in four years.”
According to Simmons, Eurocentric history has its own version of the events of 1492, but it’s also important to remember that there is another side. He compared the celebration of Columbus Day to a hypothetical celebration of Hitler Day in modern Germany.
“One difference is that the American Holocaust may have possibly resulted in ten times the deaths that Hitler’s Holocaust was responsible for,” Simmons said. “This country may try to forget us, but we’ll do our best to prevent this.”
Cynthia Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.