We Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day—and Call for Recognition and Rectification of Historical Injustices – Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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We Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day—and Call for Recognition and Rectification of Historical Injustices

October 5, 2018 Written By: Wesley Epplin

On Monday, October 8, 2018, Health & Medicine will, for the first time, be closed in observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We invite you to join us in honoring and celebrating Native Peoples, Indigenous peoples, and First Nations of the Americas.

The Indigenous Peoples of the Americas have rich, beautiful cultures and continue to show strength and build movements for equity in the face of adversity and injustice. At the same time, Indigenous Peoples have experienced thefts of their lands, traditional foods, languages, rights, property, artifacts, bodies, and lives since the arrival of settlers from Europe. Again and again, promises were not kept, treaties have been violated, and violence from both vigilantes and the state has been exacted on Indigenous Peoples. The struggle for justice continues today, and we celebrate and lend our voice in support of our Native sisters, brothers, and family members seeking freedom, sovereignty, and justice.

As part of our health equity praxis, we also take this opportunity to protest and call for an end to the annual holiday celebration of Christopher Columbus. The arrival, actions, greed, and racist white supremacist ideology of Columbus and other colonizers contributed to the subjugation, violence, dispossession of land, enslavement, weaponization of disease pathogens, and genocide of Native Peoples which continues to scar and harm our world and people today. Perpetrators of injustice do not deserve celebration.

These words are written in Chicago, Illinois, located on lands taken both by force and the threat of force from the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Tribes. The recognition of this and the details of the broader history of these and other tribes is essential to understanding public health and advancing health equity. While the many historical details—important as they are—are beyond the scope of this writing, Health & Medicine challenges our community of practice and broader society to become students of this history. Of course, recognizing history is just a start.

Health & Medicine utilizes the definition of health equity developed by Dr. Camara P. Jones:

Health equity is a process of assurance of the conditions for optimal health for all people. Achieving health equity requires at least three things: 1) Valuing all individuals and populations equally; 2) Recognizing and rectifying historical injustices; and 3) Providing resources according to need. Health inequities will be eliminated when health equity is achieved.

This definition of health equity raises up the need to value all individuals and populations equally. Also, it challenges us to recognize and correct the sanitized and false histories that are often taught to schoolchildren and in public discourse about the United States, its founding, and the activities and warped ideologies of so-called “discoverers.” We must acknowledge the reality that contrary to its stated values for liberty and justice, the U.S. was founded with genocide and slavery as major parts of the political economy—atrocious and unjust actions that contributed to health inequities and injustices that are still with us today. More difficult than this recognition is the unfinished work of rectifying these and other historical injustices.

History is ongoing. Indigenous People are with us today, in spite of injustice and invisibilization. Native People are often at the forefront of movements against injustice and fighting for their very survival and wellbeing.

We see you.

Whether leading the struggle to protect water, such as the Standing Rock encampment, fighting for climate justice, or against police killings—from which Native Americans suffer the highest rate—Indigenous People are among the leaders of movements for justice for all. We must all recognize the maxim that all of our freedom and wellbeing is tied up with one another’s and find common cause.

Holidays provide opportunities to celebrate people, raise up what is relevant, to highlight important narratives, and to both revisit and learn history. Of course, learning and recognizing history is just a beginning—the need to repair and redress deep injustice and violence that dates back before the founding of the U.S. and throughout its history is a much more difficult task. We must get to it each day.

Health equity can be understood as a struggle for just circumstances for all people. Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day we remember and pause to learn history, and we both raise up and celebrate Indigenous Peoples. Health & Medicine reaffirms our call for justice and invite our partners, other organizations, and our broader governments to join us in celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day and in redoubling our efforts for equity.