On Jan. 27 at Ithaca College, the Collective, “an informal group of students invested in critical thought and action against all systemic forms of violence and hoping to rally and work among the student body,” hosted a discussion titled, “Why Indigenous Studies Matters” as part of its Assata Shakur Series. About 25 students attended the discussion.
“This is a group that was started last semester to continue the dialogue around not only the events that happened with issues of violence, not only in our community, but in our nation and to address specific issues on our campus,” senior, Student Government Association President Crystal Kayiza said, addressing the room.
The Collective began the Assata Shakur Series, named after Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Panther Party, on Jan. 26. Shakur is currently living off of political asylum in Cuba after escaping from prison in 1979, where she was being held on several charges stemming from her Black Panther work.
One of the things discussed was the history of the Ithaca area as it relates to the local Native American population. During the American Revolution, General John Sullivan would enact a scorched-earth campaign, also known as the Sullivan Expedition, effectively destroying at least 40 villages belonging to members of the Iroquois Confederation — including a Cayugian settlement in what is now southwest Ithaca.
“They entered these villages, and they burned them to the ground, and they burned women and men and children and scalped them,” senior Dubian Ade said, explaining the incident to the group.
Ade said people can hear phrases like “no justice on stolen land,” yet have a hard time conceptualizing what that means. He went on to say that a Tutelo village once occupied what is now Route 13. The village was destroyed during Sullivan’s time.
With this locational history in mind, senior Kayla Young said it is sometimes difficult for students to fully understand colonialism, not seeing how its still rooted in today’s society. She said instead that they view it as something from the past or something external to themselves.
“The state that ordered John Sullivan to make those killings across these territories is the same state that built the prison systems,” Young said. “And it’s the same state that is responsible for failing to indict officers who kill and military officers who kill as well or abuse.”
Bud Gankhuyag ’14 said institutional change in academia sometimes depends largely on student involvement, recounting the events that took place at Cornell University in 1969. After a burning cross was placed in the yard of a black women’s residence hall on campus, members of the Afro-American Society, a group that had already formed at the university and had previously been struggling with issues of inequality and on-campus racial tensions, took over and occupied Willard Straight Hall. Making national news headlines, the event would serve as a catalyst for the university to eventually adopt an Africana Studies program and to create an Africana Center.
Sophomore Victor Lopez-Carmen, president of the Native American Students Association, said even if the college does adopt some form of Native American or indigenous studies minor, culture cannot be wholly learned in a classroom.
“This minor should let people realize that indigenous peoples are their own experts,” Lopez-Carmen said. “If they want to study the culture, they should actually go with humility to the places they can get it instead of trying to find that in a classroom.”
The Assata Shakur series will continue throughout this and next week, with Jan. 29 being “International Student Movement and Resistance,” Feb. 4 being “Deconstructing Media Tropes of Bodies of Color: What journalists and the public need to know” and Feb. 5 being “The People’s Epistemology.” All events are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Textor 102.