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Transcript: Indigenous Peoples' Day: A Conversation

 

Ohio State University experts Melissa Beard Jacob, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Daniel Rivers discuss Indigenous Peoples' Day and the history of Indigenous People. Dr. Jacob is the Intercultural Specialist for Native American and indigenous Students and Dr. Rivers is a faculty member in the Department of History. 

[Listen to the podcast here.] 

Dr. Daniel Rivers:
Thank you so much and welcome to our webinar for Indigenous Peoples' Day. It's wonderful to see you all here. I'm Daniel Rivers. I'm faculty lead for the American Indian Studies Program here and I teach Native American History, Modern Native American History and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual History in the History Department. And I'm really, really pleased to be here with Melissa Jacob talking about Indigenous Peoples' Day and what it means for us, what it's meant for students across campus, what it's meant historically and politically. So Melissa do you want to introduce yourself and say hi?

Dr. Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Sure. Hello, everyone. Boozhoo. Awunkoquay ndishnikaaz. Hello everyone my traditional name is Awunkoquay or Woman in the Fog. And my colonial name is Melissa Beard Jacob. I am a citizen of the Ojibwe – Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and I also work at the Student Life Multicultural Center as one of our intercultural specialists for Native and Indigenous students. So thank you all for coming out today. Daniel and I are very excited to have a conversation about Indigenous Peoples Day and kind of engage all with you here at The Ohio State community.

But before we begin, I wanted to share a brief land acknowledgement and take time to honor and recognize that the Ohio State University occupies the ancestral and contemporary lands of the Shawnee, Miami, Lenape, Delaware, Seneca, Wyandotte, Ojibwe, and Cherokee peoples. And the university resides on land ceded in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, and the forced removal of Tribal Nations through the Indian Removal Act of 1830 so it's especially important on Indigenous Peoples Day to take a moment to recognize the Tribal Nations that call Ohio ancestral homelands and contemporary homelands as well. So the way that today is going to proceed is we have received a number of questions that were submitted at registration and so Daniel and I are going to take some time to answer those through a conversation together. We will also be collecting conversation or excuse me questions through our conversation in the chat box. So as we are going throughout today if you have any other questions, feel free to put them in the chat and then Daniel and I will be taking time to answer those as well. We received a lot of questions. So we'll do our best to answer those. But of course, Daniel and I, you know, are always here as resources prior, you know, or after today's session.

So I guess, a good question to start with is what is Indigenous Peoples Day and why is it important for folks to recognize this day? Daniel, I don't know if you want to start out with a little bit of history?

Dr. Daniel Rivers:
Sure, might as well. You know I always think that's a good idea. And before I jump in, I just want to say thank you so much Melissa for your words. They were really apt, articulate and for those of you who don't understand the references that Melissa was making to Indian removal in 1830, the period of removal and divestment of Native Americans from their land that happened in that time includes the Trail of Tears. But it also included the land that we are on here at Ohio State. So whereas Tribes like mine, I'm a Tribal member, a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. We lost our lands through the Trail of Tears famously. In those same decades, the people whose land we are on, the borrowed land we sit on, were also forced, removed from this area. So I just want you all to understand the resonances of what Melissa was saying and the depth of the gratitude and the history and the pain that we're talking about when she made that land acknowledgement.

So thank you, Melissa. That was awesome. And when we think about the history of Indigenous Peoples Day we really can take it back to 1977 to the ‘70s. I mean, the period of Red Power Activism and although Indigenous Peoples Day is deeply important as a marker of rethinking and changing the narrative around issues like discovery and what it means to honor somebody like Christopher Columbus. In the moment of honoring what really happened there in that period of time, at the same time there's a much bigger historical context, and those of you who love history, probably, you’re not surprised by this, and that's really the history of Red Power in the 1970s. And what was happening, increasingly by 1977 is that Red Power activists, like the individuals who fought with the American Indian Movement, were realizing that there wasn't going to be any real way for them to work through the republic, through the Constitution, through the law of the land in the United States. That they were going to be denied their legal rights period, all the way down. And so they turned as Sovereign Nations to the United Nations. And they did so beginning and ’74, ‘75 as the FBI war against the American Indian Movement became most brutal and they went to the United Nations and they began developing large scale perspectives on global Indigenous rights. And out of that by 1977 comes the notion of Indigenous Peoples Day. And in the United States, we tend to be very focused on US history and think that perhaps the lesson here is one about US history. It's really one more about Indigenous Sovereign Nations history, Indigenous history. And the need for Indigenous peoples to operate outside of settler colonial paradigms to get things done, to fight for their civil rights. So Indigenous Peoples Day marks that turn towards internationalism. But then, of course, it gets taken up in the United States in its own way. So we have the first Indigenous Peoples Day adopted by my hometown of Berkeley, California, in 1992, because of the 500-year anniversary of course of the so-called discovery of the United States.

But that's a different history. The real roots of this notion of marking Indigenous Peoples Day and of honoring a new narrative comes right out of the Red Power activists in the 1970s. And Melissa, when you think about Indigenous Peoples Day and how students interact with it here on campus, because you know, Melissa is an incredible resource for those of you who don't know. We're very lucky to have her here at Ohio State and her engagement with the Native students, the undergraduates particularly has been invaluable. So I would like to ask you here to share some of what undergraduate experiences of Indigenous Peoples Day has been, Melissa, if we think about this background of empowerment of sovereignty of Native Peoples of Red Power.

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Yeah, absolutely. I think for many of the students I've worked with throughout the years, Indigenous Peoples Day for them, it's just a moment to really create more visibility for themselves on campus. I think that you know for a lot of the Native students. I mean, if you think about the large number that we have here on campus of what is it 65,000 and then Native American students make up less than 100. They often find themselves lost in the crowd or, you know, in classroom spaces feeling like the only one. And so Indigenous Peoples Day gives them an opportunity not only to share their own stories and their own histories, but to kind of take a moment and say, like, Hey, we're here and we're doing all these really great things. You know, a lot of them are speaking on panels throughout the week or doing different presentations. So it gives them an opportunity to gain some leadership skills and to also, you know, get some presentation experience while also being able to share and educate, which I think is, you know, the biggest and most important part of what they do. And of course they, you know, in the past have done rallies. So a few years back, they had a call to come together down at Town Hall in front of the Columbus statue to protest Columbus Day and the knowledge of it here in the city of Columbus, which again is very interesting space to live in as a Native person living in a city, named after Christopher Columbus. So I think a lot of our students also have those conversations of, like, what does that mean for us, and what are ways that we can push back against that. So for them, it is, you know, being activists getting together in crowds and bringing some more visibility to them. They've also arranged candlelight vigils to honor you know the genocidal essence that comes along with the quote unquote discovery of America. And there's also a number of student organizations on campus that are very active. So if anyone is looking to get involved or to learn more, we have lots of different opportunities to do that for sure. So I'm thinking a little bit more about you know how Native students celebrate Columbus Day. I know there were a lot of questions about how can we change the, take the current shift away from Columbus Day and respectfully honor Indigenous Peoples Day. So thinking about ways that we can you know celebrate and kind of move away from this false narrative of Christopher Columbus's discovery.

Daniel Rivers:
That's right, that's right. I saw a bunch of questions like that, too. And I also saw some questions on here about, you know, what does it mean what we choose to commemorate? And when I think about the information that Melissa has given us right now everyone, there's a clear answer there, right? As an educational institution, as a space where we seek to create safety and dialogue for all of our students, what we choose to commemorate has a direct impact on our student community, right, that Native students come here. And what they see commemorated tells them about the values of our institution. So I just see a clear answer there to several of these questions. And, Melissa, what you know, and those along those lines, thinking about how Native students celebrate and what it means for them, what we commemorate, have you spoken with Native students about what it means for them to come here and to feel stories they grew up with, alternative history, is celebrated and what's that like for them? Does it make them feel safer?

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Yes, definitely. Absolutely. I know, well typically in a non-COVID time During American Heritage Month, we typically have a large celebration called alternative Thanksgiving. And so for them that's a really big moment to not only provide an Indigenous perspective of, you know, the national holiday of Thanksgiving. But they really felt seen in that moment. And so I think that on campus when there are different, you know, events like this, it really makes them feel seen and as Daniel said very safe, you know, safe to be themselves, safe to not feel shame about you know their backgrounds and I think especially coming from the you know the long legacy in the Native American boarding school system. For folks that aren't really familiar with that history, you know, back in the mid-19th century, the federal government and missionary schools essentially either took Native children or their parents sent them away to institutional boarding schools and those schools were used to basically teach them how to be not native. They weren't allowed to speak their language. You know, they were only taught certain subjects in school. And so I think that Native students are coming to an institution of education with some reservations to begin with, just based upon our historical experiences of, you know, being assimilated through education. And so when they are in these spaces where, you know, maybe an instructor uses a land acknowledgement, they really felt seen in that moment, and they feel comfortable and know that that Instructor, you know, they wouldn't mind going and talking to them about things. So I definitely think that it's really important not only to educate the OSU community. It's just important for our Native students and making them feel safe and comfortable and also, making them feel heard and seen and, you know. They're a population that is often muted, I would say, or not visible. And so I think that, yeah, it's not only very important just for an education standpoint, but just for the safety and comfort of our own students as well. It looks like we actually have a couple questions here coming in that do actually flow well with this conversation. Let's see, so as a land grant university what responsibility does OSU have to acknowledge and represent their debt to Indigenous People and the violent history of land seizure, forced removals that turned Indigenous land into public land? Daniel, I don't know if you want to talk a little bit about, more, the history again here?

Daniel Rivers:
Sure. You know I love this question and what a great question, thank you so much. And so, that's right. If we think about what it means to be a land grant university, we have to think about the land that got granted. We did the grant. And the land in this instance actually belonged to the historic Ohio Tribes and it was removed from this region as settlement poured across the Ohio River from Pennsylvania. And it pushed westward and as it pushed westward within the period after the Republic, that settlement pushed the question of removing all of the Native Americans from the central Ohio region where we are. And so when that land is again granted when it's now completely under state, federal or colonial control in the 1870s and it's granted this huge bequeathment. The Congress that grants it has no power to grant it, right. They have no, they have no right to grant the land. And at the same time, it matters that it's happening in 1870 because the period after the Civil War marks a second horrific moment of land theft where Tribes across the country lose our land, both Melissa’s and my Tribes, or our nation's lost horrific land in this so-called allotment. And it stretches from the 1870s, up through 1910 essentially. It happens in different ways across the country. But 1870 and the bequeathment by an organization that doesn't have the right to bequeath it on this land that OSU sits on, comes at that second moment of land theft. So that's right. That history reviews all of this, and when we think about that as historical truth, that historical truth of speaking about Indigenous Peoples Day here in Central Ohio, and the particular historical significance, that is, we also don't have any federally recognized Tribes here. Unlike other places where Tribes were removed and vestiges of those Tribes stay, my Tribe, the Choctaw, has a branch in Mississippi of folks who stayed and weren't removed. Here in Ohio there are no federally recognized Tribal entities, right. So we're a sight of evacuation and of absence. And to mark that is one of the, one of the reasons it's so powerful to advocate for Native students here and to teach Native history. And that has everything to do with the conversation we’re having today about what kind of environment we're creating.

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Definitely. And I think also, a lot of folks don't realize the rich history that Ohio holds in terms of, you know, Indigenous histories and the nations that were here traditionally. I'm not sure if many of you are aware but Ohio is home to the largest amount of earth and land mounds in the entire world. And so actually at our OSU Newark campus, there is the Newark Earthworks Center and I really encourage you all to take a look. Dr. John Lowe and Marti Chaatsmith. Dr. Lowe is of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. Marti Chaatsmith is Comanche and I definitely would recommend getting in touch with them and looking at some of the opportunities they have to learn. Because there's a lot of rich history here that folks. I don't think number one realize and then two, don't really know that there's that opportunity to engage. You can go and actually visit the Newark Earthworks Center over in Newark. They do tours twice a year. I'm not sure, n terms of COVID, how that is happening this year, but there is opportunity to go and experience it in person. So I just wanted to add that as well because there are lots of really great opportunities and folks often don't know about them. And then I also wanted to add a little piece too about the land grant Issue. You know, I think that it's in a way similar to this idea of the land acknowledgement. I think that for land grant institutions, just the acknowledgement and itself is so meaningful. You know, to acknowledge and say, hey, we're a land grant institution. This is what this means for many Indigenous nations that were, you know, forcibly removed from their lands. Because I think oftentimes people frame it in a negative way. And it's which, of course, yes, loss of Native land is negative, but I think it's a learning opportunity and also a moment to honor the nations that are that were here, and still are here and there's lots of growth there. And I also think, you know, and another opportunity to really make Native students feel safe in the spaces that they're entering as college students to, you know, come to a land grant institution and have that acknowledgement I think is just a super important in addition to acknowledging the land as well. Let's see. So, in speaking of Columbus, the city of Columbus. The name of our city, so Ohio State University is in a city, named after Christopher Columbus, and this question here says that there are several recent examples of changes to names of places, sports teams, etc. Can you foresee there ever being a change to the name of the city of Columbus? Oh, this is a good question, Daniel. I don't know if you want to take a stab at it?

Daniel Rivers:
Of course. It's a great question. Thanks. Melissa and yacokey for the discussion of yours. Did I just want to say thank you for the shoutout to the Earthworks I absolutely want to second that. It's just an incredible, incredible space with John and Marti have been doing over there. I think there's maybe a class in production. They've been working around world heritage and all kinds of growth over there, some research opportunities. I just want everyone here to think about the Newark Earthworks Center. It’s an incredible space of Indigenous knowledge and opportunity. I think that that's exactly right. So, I mean, I guess the question of Columbus, it comes down to commemoration right. I mean the question is what do we commemorate and how do we commemorate it. And so if we think about the recent discussions over whether a statue of Jefferson Davis, for example, should you know, a horrific slave owner and secessionist, should stay up in the middle of some town, well, if we if we leave the statue of Davis up in the center of town, it kind of creates a hero out of him. Whereas if we put it in some museum somewhere or make it a talking point piece around racism and the growth of white supremacy, then it serves a useful historical purpose, right. I think that those, those are conversations that we're having as a country right now, actually. And if we think about what it means to name a city after Columbus, that's a kind of commemoration. But I think that we, as a city, need to have those conversations and perhaps if we're going to think about what it means that Ohio State is moving towards honoring Indigenous Peoples history and Indigenous People’s Day, and discovery as a questionable notion and the city is in another conversation, we need to bring those conversations together. And how great would that be? And that's what universities do that is the greatest, in my opinion, is that we engage everyone in conversation. So I would look forward to having an extended conversation, as a city over what that means and what that commemoration means historically. Yes, that's, that's what I would say about that, but names do matter, they do.

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Yes, absolutely yes representation matters. I think it would be very interesting to see what that would come from, you know, changing. I know there was the talk of Flavortown with Guy Fiori. That'd be kind of Flavortown, Ohio, would be very interesting. But, you know, and there's lots of cities in the United States that are Columbus, you know, Columbus, Georgia. I mean, there's multiple. So it'd be really interesting to see how, you know, hey, maybe we can be the first ones to kind of move that conversation and get some movement around that.

Daniel Rivers:
That is a powerful conversation to have, in a space of evacuation, I can tell you that. What a powerful conversation for us to engage in, yes.

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Yes, absolutely. Let's see. I know there was also thinking about, you know, again, with land acknowledgments, and just acknowledging land grant status and that someone had asked, how do we move beyond land acknowledgments and colonialism. So in other words, how do we prevent land acknowledgements from becoming performative? Which I think is a really great question. I know I've been often asked this. I think people start kind of in the beginning of, like, okay, first of all, what is the landing acknowledgement? How do I do it? And then there's that second and third piece of, okay, so I've done the land acknowledgement, how do I move from that in putting that more into action? And so for me and from a lens of Ohio State, I often suggest a few things. So first of all, I suggest, you know, reaching out and reading different books by Native American authors. Secondly, listening to podcasts, you know, “All My Relations,” with Adrian Keane is a really great one to start with. You know, watching film. So just kind of like taking that initiative to educate and learn. And then secondly, on campus as I said, there are the three student organizations. So that's a really great opportunity to come and engage with Indigenous folks. And you know as an ally to come and learn. Ask questions. And then, you know, lastly, we also have lots of different events on campus. So that in itself is a great way, you know, to come out and learn and interact with folks because, you know, often we say, you know, hey, you should contact and interact with local Tribes. But here in Ohio, all of our Tribes have been moved out of state. And so a really great starting point is the university, is the Earthworks and then also, Daniel, you. I don't know if you want to talk about American Indian Studies in terms of like, class options?

Daniel Rivers:
Absolutely. I was just thinking about that. Thank you so much, Melissa. So and then the other thing would be that I’m faculty lead for American Indian Studies, the program here and all you need is four classes with significant Native content in them to get the AIS minor. It's an amazing minor. I can help you find classes across the campus, you can talk with my colleagues. We have a lot of exciting faculty work in Native American Studies that actually happens at Ohio State. So all you do is just email me, Daniel Rivers, R I V E R S dot 1 and ask me about the minor and we can chat about it. And like I said, it only takes four classes. You may already have taken a couple that would count already so don't hesitate. Thank you. Thanks, Melissa.

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Most Definitely. And actually we do have another question, thinking about federally recognized Tribes. So this goes along well with thinking about, you know, how to reach out to local Tribes, but you know, why are they not here and why were they removed? So this question says, Ohio Tribes fought hard against settlers from the little I know from “An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States,”--which is a great book. I highly suggest it for folks wanting to learn more.--Is that part of why there are no federally recognized Tribes here?

Daniel Rivers:
It is a great book. And for those of you who want to know a lot more about the answer this question, I'm teaching Modern Native American History of the spring. I think I'm going to teach it online 3071. But that's absolutely right. What the question asked here alludes to what we see happening in the two regions of the American Southeast, what is modern day, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, in those, Louisiana, in those spaces where my Tribe and other Tribes came from that were forced marched north along with the Cherokee Indian territory.
In the decades right after that the Ohio Tribes were forced under military control, and they were removed. Many of them actually when you look at the history, were removed first, and in really brutal ways to Kansas and Nebraska and then removed later to territory where my Tribe and the Cherokee and others from the southeast already were. But there was deep resistance in the Central Ohio region. The great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh fought the last Pan Indian attempt to push back the invasion in the Ohio River, in the Ohio Valley. That is what happened. And so that site and the document, the 1795 treaty that Melissa alluded to, gave huge swaths of land, including Central Ohio, but also including the Potawatomi land of Chicago, right, so huge swaths of land were given away in 1795 and it came exactly as the US had defeated the British and pushed hard into this territory to push settlement across from Pennsylvania. That's, and because there was resistance, there was massive brutal push back.

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Yes. Thanks, Daniel. You're such a wealth of knowledge in terms of the history, which is fantastic. And you know even someone from, I'm from the state of Michigan, and I often didn't learn any of this history, either. It's kind of as though Ohio's taught to be this like Indigenous-less place and we don't realize all the rich history that comes along with the state of Ohio here. So we just have a few more minutes left, and I think a good question. This is a good question to kind of end with. It says thank you so much for this important conversation. How might we move beyond spaces of “inclusion” that nonetheless remain within a settler colonial framework that often brackets or marginalizes this inclusion and toward a new model of more pervasive and all-encompassing diversity and participation? That's a really great question and especially someone who comes from a Multicultural Center. We often talk about this, you know, is it is it smart to have all of us kind of in our separate constituency groups, and you know what really is there. I think diversity, equity, and inclusion has kind of become a buzzword, too. And I think a lot of folks even asked about like how do we move away from the performance of that as well, you know, checking boxes and making actual, you know, meaningful inclusion of folks in the conversation? And so I think for myself thinking about it from Student Affairs perspective is just including voices. I think, you know, including the Native student voices into these conversations and thinking about, you know, we often hear that they are the asterisk. You know that the, the data is so small that they aren't even included in some of these studies across, you know, institutions in the country. And that shouldn't be a reason why we're not included in the conversation. You know, it's not, I often say it's not our fault that we were you know victims of genocide and that our people were literally killed off. And so, you know, yes, there are going to be less Native students in spaces of higher ed, but that doesn't mean that they're not important.

Daniel Rivers:
That’s absolutely right. Thank you so much for that, Melissa. It is such incredible work you do here. And that's right and Native students will not just feel included, they will not just feel tokenism. They will feel something more if there are questions, a couple of questions after the land acknowledgement. Like, what does that mean that this actually isn't our land? Just one or two questions, and to sort of keep the conversation going a little bit or Tribal specificity. When people refer to Native traditions, because so many of us are referred to as Native Americans or Indian so much that we are not given our Tribal specific acknowledgement. Native students I guarantee you will appreciate that, right. So there are so many ways. And Melissa, what do you find that students feel about this difference between a kind of tokenism and real representation, what do they express to you about that? Is it important for them to have safe home places with only Native students and then engage in that dialogue?

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Yes, absolutely. Yes. I think there is definitely something to having Native only spaces for students because oftentimes, like you said, in classroom spaces they become that tokenized, oh, hey, you know, I even remember as a college student myself. Oh, Melissa, you’re Native? Why don't you speak about this, and I often say why I can speak about Melissa as an Ojibwe woman, but not 574 federally recognized Tribes, you know. We all come from different histories and stories and yeah, there's definitely that space that students need to come and talk about those things in a Native only context. But it looks like we are actually right at time now. I want to thank everyone for coming out today and joining our conversation. I hope you found that useful and interesting. And I would like to thank all the people in the College of Arts and Sciences, who made this possible, especially Clara Davison and the History Department and Harvey Goldberg Center for Teaching Excellence. So I hope that everyone has a wonderful week and we will see you at the next conversation.

Daniel Rivers:
Right, yeah. Happy Indigenous Peoples Day. Thank you so much.

Melissa Beard Jacob (she/hers):
Thank you all.