Students at Utah State University Blanding rose before dawn this morning to greet the sun with corn pollen in the Navajo tradition, before embarking on a 5k run to kick off the college’s first Indigenous People’s Day.
This year’s celebration was a reaction to questions raised by students on this day last year, according to Jessica Rouche. She is a student activities director at USU Blanding, which serves the highest percentage of Native American students of any college in the state. And while the school has not acknowledged Columbus Day in the past, it hasn’t done anything for Indigenous People’s Day either.
“I noticed on my social media feed there were mounds of students who were like, ‘Come on Utah State, you are in the Four Corners, and you guys aren’t celebrating Indigenous People’s Day?’” Rouche said.
In response, she surveyed the student body and put together a lineup of events including sheep butchering, beading, flute making, and guest speakers who grew up in the Four Corners region.
Third year student Hunter Warren is one of the students who encouraged USU Blanding to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. He is from the Navajo Nation, and he organizes cultural events, like traditional Navajo games, for students throughout the year.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “I know the students appreciate it, because it gives them a sense of being home and being with their culture. So that makes me proud to be doing this.”
Warren helped butcher a sheep this morning, which was served along with fry bread, potatoes and blue corn mash for lunch.
Students who aren’t from Native families or who didn’t grow up on the Navajo Nation can benefit from these cultural activities too, according to third year student Carmen Phillips. She is half Navajo, but grew up in Provo.
“I was raised in the city, and I never got the chance to be around a sheep butchering,” she said. “I get to learn so much being here.”