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Students discuss historical and contemporary Indigenous issues

Leighah Beausoleil / THE GATEPOST

By Raena Doty

Asst. Arts and Features Editor

As part of a series of events in recognition of Native American Heritage Month, the Center for Inclusive Excellence held a discussion about the discrimination and exclusion of Indigenous Americans Nov. 16.

The discussion, titled “History in the Making,” began with a few words from Eric Nguyen, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence. First, he began with an acknowledgement that FSU resides on Nipmuc, Massachusett, Pawtucket, and Agawam land.

“The other thing I want to acknowledge too is that land acknowledgement is a collection of words, and that without commitment to action beyond that, the land acknowledgement itself is fairly meaningless, and so we are committed to thinking about ways in which we can move beyond land acknowledgement,” he said.

The conversation was led by Abigayle Versackas, a senior history major, Daniela Marquez, a junior history major, and Jonathan Ribeiro, a senior history major.

They started off by discussing the long history of residential schools across the United States and Canada and how this contributed to the genocide of Indigenous people and the erasure of Indigenous culture.

They moved onto talking about the ways in which education fails to inform students of the true gravity of the genocide against Indigenous peoples.

The student panel asked attendees for their personal educational experiences learning about Indigenous genocide. Several people spoke up, talking about how their schools misled them on the subject. They only learned the truth in subjects other than history, or the truth had been codified to make it seem more palatable.

“You can’t just code the message that this was genocide because I think in a lot of people’s heads, genocide is organized. … Targeting minorities and actively destroying whole civilizations is a tale as old as time, unfortunately,” Ribeiro said.

The student panel gave a few resources for people to continue educating themselves on Indigenous heritage, including following Indigenous activists on social media, buying from and supporting Indigenous businesses, and supporting The Indigenous Foundation.

Versackas said there’s a call from some people to change the Framingham State seal because of the way it portrays Indigenous people. Nguyen clarified the controversy is because the FSU seal is based on the Massachusetts seal, which has a controversial depiction of an arm holding a sword above a Native American.

“If we change the seal altogether, then where is the representation?” Nguyen asked. “Can you keep it, but change it in a way that is more representative or more positive? … It’s a lot more nuanced sometimes than you think it is.”

Several people in the room shared media recommendations for positive representation of Indigenous people, including “Anne with an E,” “Skins” (2002), “In Whose Honor?” and an interview with Natalie Diaz on podcast “Between the Covers.”

Versackas, Marquez, and Ribeiro said they became involved with this discussion because they believe it’s important for people, especially students and young people, to be informed on these issues.

They are holding a second History in the Making discussion about missing and murdered Indigenous women in the Center for Inclusive Excellence Nov. 30.

“My goal for that was to provide more knowledge about this because it is so relevant and is a massive part of our history.” Marquez said the turnout for the event “shows that there are people who care about this topic and want to know more.

“Many people associate Native Americans with the past, when they are very much still here today. Listening and learning directly from individuals who have generational connections is extremely important. They are the ones who will welcome others into learning their history and stories, and how we can better support them. We are living on their land, and the best thing that we can all do is recognize that, their history, and the trauma they went through,” she said.


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