Indigenous Peoples' Day of Rage, Celebrating Genocide, and Statue Removal

How an Annual U.S. Holiday Changed to Celebrate Indigenous Culture and Heritage

By IGI Global on Oct 16, 2020

Editor Note: Understanding the importance of this timely topic and to ensure that research is made available to the wider academic community, IGI Global has made a sample of related articles and chapters complimentary to access. View the end of this article to freely access this critical research.


At the beginning of this week, many American states rejected observing the U.S. National Holiday, Columbus Day, and officially observed “Indigenous Peoples’ Day." According to a CNN article, this holiday recognized the native populations that were “displaced and decimated after Christopher Columbus and other European explorers reached the continent.”

This holiday not only recognizes the history of indigenous people but celebrated their resilience of tribal communities and promotes reconciliation with a stronger tie between indigenous cultures, government, and overall citizens. Many states celebrated with educational events and promotions showcasing the experiences and history of these cultures.

However, during the week, demonstrators and native activists protested by removing historic statues of Christopher Columbus, war monuments, and presidents stating that it celebrates “oppression, colonization, and the continuing genocide” of indigenous people, according to a Business Insider article.  These demonstrations ranges from peaceful protests to a group in  Portland, Oregon pulling down statues of presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and naming the event “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage.” Understanding the importance of awareness of heritage and indigenous cultures, Profs. Antoni Santisteban-Fernández, Neus González-Monfort and et. al. from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, explain why it is important for citizens to create a historic awareness and cultural understanding in their article, “Critical Citizenship Education and Heritage Education,” from Critical Citizenship Education and Heritage Education (IGI Global).

Critical Citizenship Education and Heritage Education
Copyright: 2020 | Pages: 623 | ISBN: 9781799819783 | EISBN: 9781799819790

This is a critical scholarly book that provides relevant and current research on citizenship and heritage education aimed at promoting active participation and the transformation of society...Learn More.

Critical education starts from the foundation that any educational process should be interpreted as a power relationship and any discourse or story has an ideology which must be identified, including those related to studying the heritage. In the opinion of Dewey (1995, 2002), education is not a neutral process but a form a social control. In a similar vein, Freire (1970, 1974) believes that education is an instrument that can be used in two totally different ways: first, to educate a person in the logic of the social system, and two, to educate them in “the practice of freedom” in order to deal with reality critically and creatively for social participation and transformation. Ross (2019) states that there is no “scientifically objective” response to the question on the purposes of education in the social sciences because these purposes are determined by the kind of society we want to build. The purposes of studying heritage cannot be approached from objectivity or neutrality, since heritage exists within a society and a context, and education upholds certain social values.

Heritage education should teach students to appreciate the historical and cultural legacy we have been bequeathed and that we should leave as a legacy for future generations; it should teach us to value things with both a social origin and a natural heritage, both tangible and intangible. But heritage education cannot be limited to a catalogue of the assets and achievements of a given culture and its knowledge; instead, it should also spark questions and inquiry into the problems related to their creation, evolution, conservation and future. Critical education sets out to educate youths to understand their reality and participate in society in order to bring about changes and improve it. Learning how to interpret the past is an essential part of this process in order to understand the present through the legacy and sources which have reached us and are part of our cultural inheritance, and to contextualise the heritage from the historical standpoint and understand what society was like and how it has changed.

Heritage education can be a tool for training students in critical thinking skills if we analyse the conflicts associated with the creation and conservation of the heritage, as well as the different viewpoints regarding the meaning and use of the heritage in society today. The heritage is born with a certain intentionality associated with a way of thinking, living and seeing the world. Analysing the heritage means analysing the information associated with its origin and the society that created it, which enables us to work from the perspective of critical literacy. We have to educate students in asking questions based on sources and in training critical thinking for social action.

This chapter presents the fundamental ideas on critical heritage studies which interpret power relations, analyse hegemonic stories and suggest alternative counter-narratives on the purpose and future of the heritage (Daly & Chan, 2015). From this perspective, we suggest challenging the study of the heritage and posing controversial topics which reveal the most conflictive elements of the heritage in terms of its origin, meaning, conservation or disappearance, current use, etc. (Winter, 2013; Ho, McAvoy, Hess, & Gibbs, 2017). Knowledge of the heritage enables us to introduce topics related to democratic values, social problems related to people’s lives, change and continuity over time, debate and development of a critical awareness (Bickmore & Parker, 2014).

Heritage and Critical Citizenship Education

The study of the heritage from the vantage point of critical education should first help citizens understand their reality, even if this reality is extremely socially and culturally complex, with a mix of the new and old, natural and social, private and communal, civil and religious, mundane and strange, etc. For this reason, in order to understand our social milieu via the heritage, we should train critical thinking to decode this complexity and creative thinking to come up with solutions and alternatives to the problems. Ultimately, we should educate students to take part in their social milieu, meant in a broad sense, from democratic participation to changing and improving society.

Heritage education should allow the historical roots of the present to be interpreted via all the elements from the past that still survive, perhaps in the guise of objects, including all kinds of mementos, sites and cultural evidence, which we can examine in terms of what kind of society they represent, who constructed and used them, what they were used for, what values they represent, what they tell us, etc. Based on a comparative exercise between past and present, the heritage enables us to understand what our society used to be like and how it has evolved. And consequently, it also enables us to think about the changes that may occur in the future, developing capacities for foresight.

As Burke (2006) states: “Even though the past doesn’t change, history should be rewritten by each generation so that the past remains intelligible in a changing present” (p. 239).

From this perspective, education for critical citizenship poses questions on the heritage, on its value for our present and on how it can be reinterpreted by the current generations based on a reading that reflects the problems in our society: “Heritage is constantly chosen, recreated and renegotiated in the present” (Harrison 2013, 165).

The study of the heritage should be part of education for critical citizenship (Ávila & Mattozzi, 2009; Estepa, Ávila, & Ferreras, 2008), which confronts different obstacles to be dealt with in compulsory education and teacher training related to the traditional concept of knowledge about the heritage, based primarily on descriptive data, which has little to do with interpreting the meaning of the historical and cultural heritage (Cuenca, 2010; Cuenca & Martín, 2009; Domínguez & Cuenca, 2005). Heritage education should start with questions and problems, and with a reflection on our identities, which are related to both the individual and the collective (Santisteban & González-Monfort, 2019).

A study of heritage for critical citizenship should include an intercultural perspective, in which cultures exchange their knowledge peer-to-peer. In this sense, studying the heritage allows for an approach to cultural diversity through its legacy, its sources and the remains of its past. This study also leads us to compare cultures over time and in the present in order to understand ourselves and other cultures better. The intercultural perspective is inherent in critical heritage studies because the idea of heritage is conceived from radical humanism, as a common good of humanity which leaves room for all cultures and identities.

Sharing cultures based on the humanity that joins us also means sharing the tangible and intangible heritage of each culture by forging a constant dialogue, for example, with indigenous peoples or the cultures that preceded us (Villalón & Pagès, 2015) with which we live in different spaces on the earth, as Berry (2006) states:

Our secular, rational, industrial society, with its amazing scientific insights and technological skills, has established the first radically anthropocentric society and has thereby broken the primary law of the university, the law of the integrity of the universe, the law that every component member of the universe should be integral with every other member of the universe. (Berry, 2006, 130)

Critical citizenship also upholds the role of women in the creation of cultural goods and society. In heritage studies, just as in social or historical studies, women are all too often invisible or are given a secondary role (Crocco, 2008; Pagès & Sant, 2012; Bohan, 2017). But women have played a fundamental role in creating the historical and cultural legacy, not only large monuments or constructions or the better-known art but also the intangible heritage, where women have often been the transmitters of the oral culture or the ones to conserve, tend to and transmit the culture more closely related to everyday life, customs or traditions, which are part of the cultural heritage.

Women’s relationship with caregiving activities, with matters related to assisting the elderly, children or the ill, has generated an entire body of knowledge about health and healthcare culture, the development of emotions, intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, and everything having to do with social skills, listening, empathy and solving everyday social problems. All of these elements are in themselves a kind of knowledge that is transmitted from one generation to the next and are an essential heritage legacy. Today, all of this knowledge must be shared by men and women, and it must be examined in school so youths can learn it, regardless of their gender.

We suggest a counter-hegemonic discourse which contradicts what was considered normal until now related to people and identities that have been rendered invisible, marginalised and hidden when studying the heritage, and also related to a hegemonic discourse which comes with the description and interpretation of elements from the cultural or historical heritage which are analysed in the present. That is, we suggest disrupting the normal and the common, since what is called common reflects a particular perception of power relations, as well as an acritical conception of the heritage and culture.

If we think about major heritage works from any country, the hegemonic discourse tends to highlight the great artists, sculptors or architects, most of them men from a given dominant culture. Yet rarely do the women who had a presence in the everyday lives of many people working on these great works appear, women who contributed to the construction in many ways. Nor do the workers who made these works possible appear, or the children who often contributed. Few lines are spent on the accidents that happened or the slavery with which some of these great works were built. For these reasons, we propose an alternative, divergent discourse when studying the heritage which incorporates or includes everyone who participated in all cultural creations.

On the other hand, very little attention is paid to studying the intangible heritage at school, as well as the entire legacy related to everyday life, cooking, the culture of plants, customs in family relationships, local or popular traditions, oral culture, etc. Part of the heritage of all cultures lies in their legends, stories and tales, which significantly shape family identities and collective memory. Part of our socialisation comes through these stories, and some of them are a critique of the society where they are told, which enable us to introduce values and interpretation skills. On the other hand, this kind of study of the cultural heritage allows students to feel important in their society and responsible for the historical and cultural legacy.

Critical Heritage Studies and Controversial Issues

What are Critical Heritage Studies?

In the opinion of Lowenthal (1985), the remains of the past are not meaningful in themselves but instead require an interpretation and a contextualisation that gives them value. The interpretation of the heritage can lead the past to change by reusing or modifying it, which can lead its meaning to change for the community. Therefore, the heritage transforms because people’s perception of it changes because of our very human condition, which leads our perception of the remains of the past to change, most likely because our values, beliefs, preferences or priorities have changed. This last area is where critical heritage studies are the most meaningful, since the heritage is then interpreted from a given political, cultural or social perspective, which we can decipher and assess.

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Understanding the need for research around this topic, this research is featured in the publication, the Handbook of Research on Citizenship and Heritage Education (IGI Global). This title is a critical scholarly book that provides relevant and current research on citizenship and heritage education aimed at promoting active participation and the transformation of society. Readers will come to understand the role of heritage as a symbolic identity source that facilitates the understanding of the present and the past, highlighting the value of teaching. Additionally, it offers a source for the design of didactic proposals that promote active participation and the critical conservation of heritage. Featuring a range of topics such as educational policy, curriculum design, and political science, this book is ideal for educators, academicians, administrators, political scientists, policymakers, researchers, and students.

It is currently available in electronic format (EISBN: 9781799819790) through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore at a 50% discount, and the chapters are available for individual purchase for as low as US$ 37.50. Recommend this publication and view all of the chapters featured in this title on the book webpage here. Additionally, this research and IGI Global’s full list of related titles is featured in the InfoSci-Books database. Request a free trial or recommend the InfoSci-Books database to your library to have access to this critical research.

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