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Activist scholar illuminates state-perpetrated sexual violence against Native women and need for action

Lola Skipper

Guest Speaker Andrea Smith, “Andy” as she likes to be called, stood at the podium before a packed audience in the Student Union last Thursday night. After being introduced by Ethnic Studies professor Deborah Berman-Santana as “committed to healing, committed to justice,” Smith, a Cherokee, first had to acknowledge something: the land Mills stands on used to belong to indigenous people.

In Honor of Native American Heritage Month, Mills’ Native American Sisterhood Alliance (NASA) hosted Smith who lectured on “Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” Her lecture regarding the causes and effects of violence towards and within Native American communities stood out.

In her experience working with the Red Cross as a Crisis Counselor and as interim director for the Boarding School Healing Project, Smith said she’s heard many individuals say, “I wish I wasn’t Indian anymore”. According to Smith the majority of Native American victims of violence suffer from depression and/or alcoholism and often commit suicide before help finds them.

Smith underlined the importance of helping victims of violence to end violence, rather than teaching them how to live with it. She outlined strategies for building a movement against violence towards Native Americans in the future. These included recruiting non-activists as well as building what she calls “transnational relationships,” or connections with other indigenous groups, for help in generating new ideas “to create a world in which violence becomes unthinkable”.

Smith said that developing “autonomous zones,” or self-governed areas, is the first step to Native American economic independence from the United States. This, she said, is key in escaping the United States’ governing system of “violence and domination.”

In her closing statement Smith told the audience that a movement requires a longer-term vision as well as flexibility in case of mistakes.

“Even though we can’t really describe what a world without oppression would look like, that doesn’t mean we can’t be a part of the creative historical process that brings us closer to the working one in the end,” she said.

After the lecture Smith received a standing ovation from her audience, which included individuals from the Mills and Oakland communities as well as representatives from local radio stations KPFA and TUC Radio.

Audience members formed a line for a one-on-one conversation with Smith during a reception that preceded Smith’s speech. The reception featured food prepared by NASA that included buffalo meat, fry bread, wild rice, steamed vegetables, chips and salsa, and two types of pie.

Esther Lucero, a junior and member of NASA, commented on the success and high turnout for the event, “We have a lot of people from the Oakland Community,” she said. “We really appreciate them.”

Betty Groves, a junior at Mills, also felt the impact of Smith’s speech. “I felt like she had a lot of new ideas about things that can be done,” she said. “I found it very inspiring.”