The panel discussion held on Monday, Oct. 12 for Indigenous People’s Day began, in Native American tradition, with a story.
“Even the most simple story is deep if you search for the teaching,” said S’Klallam Native American Roger Fernandes. “You need stories to understand.”
Fernandes shared tales of Native people banding together with war cries to fend off enemies approaching by water and of grandmother and grandson trees stretching out their branches to protect each other. The stories spoke of a generational care his people were known for—cycles that have been broken.
Suffering in a forced silence, a life of fear and attack on identity has been the Native American story for hundreds of years. The community is now fighting to reclaim what once was theirs.
Tyrone Brown explains the purpose of the panel in relation to the Moral Mondays series.
“I’m glad we made the switch to calling [this holiday] Indigenous People’s Day,” said junior Aidan Earle. “Hopefully children growing up will have a better understanding of our shared cultural heritage and the wrongs and rights of history.”
The nationwide movement to abolish Columbus Day is still a battle far from won. South Dakota is currently the only state to have successfully declared the second Monday in October as Native American Day. Though no other states have adopted the new name, Seattle made the change in 2014, and recently cities like Portland and St. Paul have joined in.
“I’ve come to the awareness of the erasure of not only my heritage but of the indigenous people here,” junior Jose Chalit said. “I think it’s important to deconstruct not just the stereotypes, but history in general.”
Sarah Salcedo Samudre and Vasant Samudre spoke at the panel of their upcoming social justice documentary “Promised Land,” which examines the problem of the restoration of treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, specifically with the Duwamish and Chinook tribes.
“Promised Land” does not have a narrator, and instead focuses solely on Native voices. The Samudres plan to submit the film to various festivals this fall, with its pending release tentatively set in May 2016.
“Being at SU and on formerly Duwamish territory, it feels almost hypocritical of anyone really to stand here and not recognize indigenous rights and indigenous power,” Chalit said. “I want to be connected to a real history of the place I’m in and the place that I came from.”
Numerous tribes are still seeking the right to govern themselves and to educate their children the way they want.
Panelist Marc Taylor, of the Seattle Indian Health Board, explained that the denial of funding or special grants indigenous people face takes away opportunities for more resources such as dental and health aid.
“You don’t really realize and understand until later these conceptions of race and inequality and just how much it takes away,” said Tlingit Alaskan and Seattle U alum Megan Castillo, who helped organize the event. “I think it’s something I’m becoming more aware of and becoming more and more connected to.”
Volunteer opportunities on reservations in areas surrounding Seattle U were emphasized at the panel in an effort to spread allyship and support.
Forcible relocation among Native Americans and the struggles urban Natives face today are continuously being grappled with. According to Castillo, being an urban Native herself, urban environment topics like homelessness, substance abuse and depression are only amplified within the Native community.
Despite how government offices across the nation continue to alienate these communities, hope for real, positive change is still being nurtured as more action and dialogue takes place.
“In terms of what I see for the future, I see a lot of Native American students who are going to college, getting advanced degrees, and working in the community,” said Jocelyn McCurtain, a research fellow for Seattle U’s Center for Indian Law and Policy and recent Seattle U Law School grad.
The progress that McCurtain predicts could have a huge impact by bringing education to the indigenous community and making the community more visible to the general public.
“The more people you talk to and the broader your community is the more informed you are of your own understanding of yourself,” Castillo said.
Vikki may be reached at [email protected]