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Honoring Native American History Month

Reading The Campanil last week, I was surprised by the column entitled The Underside of Undergrad, where Sandhya Dirks commented that “young straight white middle-class women” are “a minority community that suffers greatly at the hands of the powers that be.” Since white women make up 66 to 70 percent of the undergraduate population, and Mills admissions brochures claim that 70 percent of women on campus identify as straight, it is interesting that Dirks considers the straight white student population to be within the “minority.”

The definition of minority peoples does not necessarily mean just the numerical population; it more commonly refers to groups of people within a lower socio-economic class, political power level and educational status. To be considered a minority is to be dominated by structural policies and racism built into a colonial legacy that continues today – even as we have the first Black president.

During the Gold Rush era of the late 1800s, 98 percent of my relatives were exterminated in the name of gold, greed and genocide. As land and citizenship were withheld, they had no legal or civil rights. Creating public policy for the extermination of Native peoples, the State of California spent over $1 million a year for Indian scalps and heads by offering bounties to “Indian hunters,” which ranged from 25 cents for a scalp to $5 for a severed Native American head. UC Berkeley put an ancestor of mine named Ishi on living museum display, as he was classified as “the last wild Indian.” Despite current federal and state law, the University continues to possess the remains of more than 12,000 Native ancestors and more than 200,000 ancestral items and sacred objects. The right to control our ancestral remains is a basic human entitlement that nearly all groups in the United States are afforded except Native Americans.

As an Indigenous person, I am part of a population that currently makes up 0.08 percent reflected within the Mills College campus and the United States. The 2000 Census report states that only 11 percent of Native American people have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, and we are twice as likely as the general population to live below the poverty line. In comparison to the dominant group of straight white middle class, which has always made up the majority of the population at Mills College, I am represented within the minority status.

As November is Native American Heritage Month, I was asked to write about why it is significant to me and why it should be to you. The purpose of this month is to honor and recognize the original inhabitants of this land. To truly respect and grasp the historical legacy is to educate yourself of the current struggles Indigenous peoples face in the territory in which you co-exist. Honesty is the path to authentic solidarity. As we struggle to exist as a people, we strive to build healthy sustainable communities, which is a common goal in the struggle for justice and a significant step towards collective liberation. Today, Indigenous Peoples all over the world are participating in a movement of truth and reconciliation – an effort to challenge dominant Eurocentric hetero-patriarchal norms. The genocide that has been perpetrated against Indigenous Peoples for 516 years has never ended. By acknowledging that the United States is a colonial-settler nation-state founded on genocide and theft, is to recognize the history and modern day struggle for survival, as told through Indigenous minority eyes.

One of the more significant events that will take place this month is the annual Sunrise gathering at Alcatraz Island, hosted by the International Indian Treaty Council. During the gathering, we will join together to renew our commitment to protect Mother Earth, honor the many heroes of our struggles, celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ survival and build solidarity among all Peoples. All are welcome to participate and as the sun rises, tobacco prayers will be offered to the fire for the Earth and coming generations, and for All Our Relations.

Give Thanks Every Day.