Humor, music highlight Indigenous People’s Day

By Gus Bode

Comedian, religious leader talks about experiences being Native American

Monday was not Columbus Day for Steve McCollough.

As part of a celebration for Indigenous People’s Day, McCollough spoke to a small crowd in the Student Center Auditorium about his culture, his people, and the significance of the holiday.

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“Christopher Columbus was one of the greatest genocidal people of our time,” McCollough said. “He was our Hitler.”

The Native American Student Organization planned the event as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day. Along with McCollough’s speech was a performance by Apache Hopi Tewa comedian Drew Lacapa and the Black Eagle Spirit Drum group.

Native American Student Organization President Nichole Boyd, a senior in university studies from Chicago, said Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole made Oct. 11 officially Indigenous People’s Day in 2003.

Boyd met McCollough, a spiritual leader for the Salt Lake Sundance in Indiana, at the past Sundance, a cultural festival, and later found Lacapa on a website for Native American performers.

McCollough said his role as a spiritual leader is not to change the religion of others but to help change the perception of non-natives about their culture and create understanding between different faiths.

“We don’t get high or smoke dope to see spirits,” he said. “We pray or fast. That is the way our people have been taught for centuries.

“We like to share [beliefs] when the opportunity arises. We don’t like to argue our religion.”

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McCollough was involved in the Wounded Knee occupation from 1973 to 1978, and lost 17 friends during the time period. Yet, he continues to preach forgiveness.

“Even though it was negative and very hard to talk about, I see a lot of positive things for our own future,” he said. “When they enter the spirit world, they will understand how they were wrong.”

McCollough’s speech on religion and culture was preceded by Lacapa’s half-hour routine where he joked about the differences between white people and Native Americans.

“On behalf of the Native American population, welcome to America,” he began.

Lacapa is from the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, and he shared humorous stories of what growing up on a reservation was like and how he felt stereotyped.

“Imagine what it’s like being a Native American,” he said. “I’m tired of apologizing… It’s all our country, we’re just trying to get rent back.”

The six members of the Black Eagle Spirit Drum group performed a song and prayer between the two speakers and a closing song.

Bill Vessels of Mount Vernon, Ind., the Keeper of the Drum, said he also knew McCollough from the sundance and decided to accompany his friend.

“Steve said he’s coming, and we knew we had to come,” Vessels said.

Following the program, Boyd gave a traditional gift of tobacco to all the performers and the two speakers. She also gave SIUC apparel to both McCollough and Lacapa.

She said there are several upcoming events planned in November for Native American Heritage Month.

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