By Cait Kemp
Tuesday evening over a “fire side chat” on Zoom, the Springfield College community welcomed a conversation surrounding the indigenous land that this and many other institutions stand on.
The event, “Recognizing Indigenous Pasts, Presents, and Futures: A Conversation on Land Acknowledgement” was organized by Springfield College’s Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement and co-moderated by Dr. Calvin Hill and sophomore Jahlina Carter.
Guest speakers for the event included Dr. Margaret Bruchac, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Coordinator of Native American and Indigenous Studies, and Consulting Scholar of Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Rhonda Anderson, Western Massachusetts Commissioner on Indian Affairs and Founder/Co Director of the Ohketeau Cultural Council and the Native Youth Empowerment Foundation.
The conversation was led by moderators, and both speakers were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the questions being asked.
A topic that has been seen in the past few years that has become very controversial is the use of indigenous people as mascots, from high schools all the way up to professional sports teams. It was seen largely in the media with the Washington Redskins, who have now become the Washington Football Team, and the Cleveland Indians, who have begun to move away from their Chief Wahoo logo.
“Well, mascots used by learning institutions and professional sports teams are hurtful and harmful as they are inaccurate, stereotypical representations. And through these stereotypical representations it erases their identity of native people,” said Anderson. “It can be really hard to visualize a future with yourself in it when facing this kind of erasure and this kind of violence.”
The conversation then led into discussion about pop culture representation, and the lack of indigenous people on the big screens.
“When was the last time that you turned on the TV and watched a sitcom with a protagonist being a native family just doing ordinary things?” Anderson said.
“Our cultures are glaringly absent from mainstream society and mainstream culture. And that absence I believe is not an accident.”
Land acknowledgement, the main topic of the event, came into play at the beginning of the talk with President Mary-Beth Cooper coming on to read the Springfield College land acknowledgement. Both speakers agreed that this was a step in the right direction to begin to recognize the native people that inhabited this land for hundreds of years, but not the end of the journey.
“That first step brings a level of awareness that is not present in much of American society. Many people imagine that native people are in the past and are gone, or that they are somehow primitive remnants of some former civilization that has been replaced by Euro-American settlers. That is not true,” said Bruchac.
“The college should absolutely be seeking reciprocity and relationship building with current, local tribal nations who consider the land to be their traditional territories. Doing so recognizes and honors the sovereignty of tribal nations,” Anderson added.
The lasting message that viewers were left with is how to take action and where to find more information. A land acknowledgement is not enough, so what can Springfield College do to harbor these relationships with indigenous tribes to create a better environment for everyone?
“It all depends on what the concern is… the first step never is, yet should be, to contact the tribal nation because in many cases there are native people already aware of these disturbances,” Bruchac said. “One does not want to rush to the extreme. So, if anyone, whether an individual or someone in a position of power at an institution wants to help, one needs to know what’s appropriate and not simply adopt, I apologize for saying this, white savior syndrome.”
“Well, just quite simply listen. Listening is the single most important thing you can do,” added Anderson.
Moving forward, it is imperative to recognize and acknowledge the indigenous tribes whose land many stand upon, and participate in events such as this one to gain more knowledge about the topic. Knowledge is power, and there is still much to learn.
Photo Courtesy of Springfield College