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Reflections on Indigenous Peoples' Day: A Letter from the Head of School

Dear Parents,

Tomorrow, October 11th, school will be closed in recognition of the holiday formerly known only as Columbus Day – a tribute to the individual historically credited with “discovering” America. In recent years, as a more realistic and nuanced view of how European settlers came to be in possession of U.S. lands has emerged, the day has increasingly been known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a shift intended to acknowledge the existence and contributions of the many native groups here long before Columbus. This is the first year this name change is reflected in VCS’s calendar, and while it may seem like a small gesture, I am encouraged by the widespread reexamination of long-accepted narratives, as a more equitable future depends on an honest reconciliation of the past.

VCS teachers make an intentional effort to engage students in learning about underrepresented groups, and many discussions of Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples have already taken place at school. In Woodshop, 2nd-5th Graders were excited to learn about 10 Native American inventions still commonly used today; 4th Graders spent time in Community Meeting exploring the history of the holiday’s name change; and 5th Graders participated in an interdisciplinary lesson on the Taino tribe in their Social Studies and Spanish classes. In the Upper School, 7th Graders considered the concept of ownership through an unexpected visit from a group of 8th Graders who wished to “claim” their classroom, and 8th Graders have just finished reading Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and are preparing to write analytical essays on the book’s themes of belonging, native identity, and institutional racism.

Families may also wish to use this time as an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous peoples and cultures, and I encourage those interested to RSVP for Gyasi Ross’s upcoming virtual talk, "Indigenous People, Race and Education" on Thursday, October 14th from 6:00-7:00 p.m., which is free and open to the public as part of the Independent Schools Coalition's Equity and Inclusion Virtual Speaker Series.

Our curricular emphasis on those who have traditionally been overlooked is a year-round endeavor, and I look forward to seeing additional studies of Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups unfold in the weeks and months to come.