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Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Published

Dear Colleagues,

With many of us now spending time again in Bloomberg School offices, labs, and facilities, we bring with us a new appreciation for the importance of place and community. While we reorient ourselves to the School, it is important to remember that the spaces we occupy are on the unceded traditional and contemporary homelands of Indigenous peoples.

Please join me in honoring the Indigenous communities that have inhabited tribal lands for more than 15,000 years as we recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In doing so, we work in solidarity to combat ongoing invisibility, bias, and racism that negatively impact the well-being of Indigenous peoples. We must stop perpetuating a grossly false history of the lands now known as America as being “discovered” by European explorers and colonizers, (e.g., Columbus Day), a narrative that has contributed to supremacy and oppression toward Indigenous peoples.

I encourage you to explore the work of Indigenous scholars, learn more about the public health issues impacting Native communities, develop and use land acknowledgements, and think about ways to follow the lead of Indigenous peoples to improve public health for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The nonprofit IllumiNative provides a strong rationale for the purpose of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day and is just one resource you can use to begin to learn about how to better support Indigenous communities. Here is an excerpt:

Research has shown that the lack of representation of Native peoples in mainstream society creates a void that limits the understanding and knowledge that Americans have of Native communities. Pop culture, media and K-12 education have institutionalized the erasure of Native peoples to the point that 78% of Americans admit they know little to nothing about Native Americans. A significant number are also not sure Native Americans still exist. 

Invisibility is the modern form of racism against Native people. The void is filled by limited representation that often reinforces toxic myths and stereotypes that fuel ignorance, misinformation and bias. ...

It’s important that we acknowledge that Americans have been fed a false history. The story told of Native peoples in history books erases the trauma and persecution carried out upon Native communities and ignores the truth of our resiliency and strength. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an important part of our movement—it is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate Native peoples, our resiliency and our future, in the present.

Though we have more work to do, I am excited to see the School’s growing number of Indigenous faculty (now 19), students (19 are currently in doctoral or master’s programs), alumni (26), and staff (180.) Much of this growth is attributable to the efforts of our Center for American Indian Health, whose mission is to advance health equity for Indigenous peoples through community-based participatory research, practice, and student and faculty development.

In the field of public health, we continue to learn much from Indigenous peoples’ knowledge, value systems, and traditions. They teach us the importance of collective will, community responsibility, and the balance of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health to preserve the well-being of all living things and our environment.

May we embrace these principles as public health cornerstones of our mission of protecting health and saving lives—millions at a time.

Yours sincerely,

Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75
Dean
Bloomberg Distinguished Professor

Joel I. Bolling, MA
Assistant Dean for Inclusion, Diversity, Anti-Racism, and Equity