On Monday, October 14, 2020, Kansas State University’s Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance hosted its 4th annual Indigenous Peoples Day celebration on “Asserting Sovereignty: Innovations and Battlegrounds.”
This year was the largest event yet, with over 280 individual registrants, nineteen classes, over 630 students sent to the conference sessions, coverage by WIBW, KSNT, The Collegian, and K-State radio, and many more folks dropping in for single sessions to hear 21st century Indigenous perspectives and scholarship on topics ranging from sovereignty in education, to land rights, to language reclamation, to legislative history and violence against women, to Indigenous health, to science fiction and more.
Keynote Presenters included Sarah Deer, J.D. (Muscogee [Creek] Nation), Professor, University of Kansas, and Chief Justice, Prairie Island Indian Community Court of Appeals; Susan Faircloth, Ph.D. (Coharie), Professor and Director of the School of Education, Colorado State University; and Meredith McCoy, Ph.D. (Turtle Mountain Chippewa descent), Assistant Professor and Andersen Fellow of American Studies and History, Carleton College.
The opening, which included a song and prayer from Vann Bighorse (Osage), Director, Osage Nation Language Department, and Educational Leadership Graduate Student, as well as the presentation of the colors by Company G-7, National Society of Pershing Rifles, emphasized the long-term presence of Indigenous people on the land now occupied by Kansas State. As Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance co-chair and Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Dr. Alex RedCorn (Osage) noted, Kansas State often celebrates its land grant history. In some ways that celebration is well deserved, but at the same time, RedCorn posed a question often not asked — where did that land come from? He pointed out that his people, and well as the Kanza (Kaw) Nations and a number of other Native nations, had called this land home before their forced removal. In fact, RedCorn pointedly noted, many of these removals of Indigenous nations were occurring at the very same time as educational institutions like Kansas State were being founded.
The first keynote, Sarah Deer, a professor at the University of Kansas, spoke on what she termed “Sovereignty of the Soul: Violent Victimization in Indian Country.” Deer’s scholarship focuses on the intersection of federal Indian law and victims’ rights, using Indigenous feminist principles as a framework. Her work to end violence against Native women has received national recognition from the American Bar Association and the Department of Justice. She has testified before Congress on two occasions regarding violence against Native women and was appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder to chair a federal advisory committee on sexual violence in Indian country. Professor Deer was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2014.
Deer’s talk pointed both to the grim contemporary realities faced by Indigenous women as well as to the radical shifts in the violence they experienced as colonial laws and pressure affected Indigenous societies. Deer pointed to the sexual violence perpetrated from Columbus onward and highlighted the ways in which the imposition of U.S. federal law on Indigenous nations had directly impacted how such violence could be prosecuted. As Deer showed, “If we look deep enough, we can almost always find an element of sexual violence entwined” with the imposition of colonial laws and settler interventions. Deer’s powerful talk underscored how tribal sovereignty directly impacts the safety and power of Native women.
Deer was followed by Professor and Director of the School of Education at Colorado State University, Dr. Susan C. Faircloth (an enrolled member of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina). Faircloth’s research includes Indigenous education, the education of culturally and linguistically diverse students with special educational needs, and the moral and ethical dimensions of school leadership. A former Fulbright Senior Scholar and Ford Foundation Postdoctoral scholar, Faircloth chairs the technical review panel for the National Indian Education Study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, the Office of Indian Education, and the Educational Testing Service.
In her keynote, “Education as an Impediment or Imperative of Sovereignty?” Faircloth highlighted how the history of U.S. educational policy worked (unsuccessfully) to assimilate Indigenous people and nations and to erase Indigenous cultures. As an educator who works at the interstices of “practical and legislative sovereignty,” Faircloth notes the absolute necessity for Native people to work for the specific concerns and needs of Indigenous children, which at times means participating in the very educational structures that attempted to erase their cultures and lifeways. Faircloth shared her important research in the quantitative and qualitative assessment of the educational experiences of Indigenous children, noting both the need for and problems with such data collection.
The morning keynotes were followed by a lunch discussion of three films. The first two films —Take Action: Protect Our Land (Paramount, 2019) and Osage Speaker Herman Mongrain Lookout (Invisible Nations, Finding America, 2016) — were directed by Osage filmmaker and performer Ryan RedCorn (of Indigenous comedy troupe 1491 fame). Respectively, they raised conversations about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline on the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana and the necessity of language reclamation and resurgence. The final film, The Sixth World, written and directed by celebrated Diné filmmaker Nanobah Becker (ITVS, 2013), offered a look into Indigenous futures, in a contemporary genre Anishinaabe theorist Grace Dillon has termed “Indigenous futurisms.” In it, Becker imagines a Mars mission funded by the Navajo nation, led by a female Indigenous astronaut, and ultimately saved by Indigenous knowledges. Each film exemplified different but equally essential aspects of contemporary Indigenous sovereignty.
The five afternoon breakout sessions included scholarship and conversation from eight Native American educators and included Sarah Deer’s “Tribal Criminal Law”; Meredith McCoy’s “Teaching Hard History: Insights from Curricular Frameworks and Podcasting”; Susan Faircloth’s “National Indian Education Study: An Overview”: Vann Bighorse, John Maker (Osage), and Robynn Rulo’s (Osage) “Osage Language Preservation”; Victor Andrews’ (Walker River Paiute) “Discussing Indigenous Health Disparities,” and Donna Ann Joseph’s (Lakota/Dakota)“We Are the Medicine Wheel.”
The day concluded with a meeting of the Kansas Association of Native American Educators (KANAE) in which students, parents, and educators came together to talk about how to best support Indigenous students, programs, and Native and on-Native teachers of Native children in Kansas.
The final keynote of the day was given by Dr. Meredith McCoy (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa descent), Assistant Professor and Andersen Fellow of American Studies and History at Carleton College. McCoy’s research uses Critical Race Theory to shed light on histories of structural violence and Indigenous agency during two hundred years of United States schooling. McCoy has previously worked as a public school teacher, a Policy Assistant at the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, and an instructor at both Turtle Mountain Community College and Freedom University. McCoy is also the founder of www.nativeninetypercent.com, a creative digital space for Indigenous people writing about diaspora, relocation, and reconnection.
Dr. McCoy’s presentation, “Settler Colonial Realism: Historical Considerations for Contemporary Educational Sovereignty,” aligned with Deer’s and Faircloth’s in taking a hard look at U.S. policies towards Indigenous peoples. Like Faircloth, she too began by noting the history of boarding schools. Educational policy, McCoy argued, “has not deviated from its vision” since that time. McCoy shared her archival work on educational funding for American Indian people, charting the movement (or lack thereof) from the Civilization Fund Act of 1819 to the Johnson-O’Malley Act of 1934 to educational policies and budgets from 1965 to 2017. McCoy used her significant collection of fiscal data to show the decline of funding for Indigenous education as well as what she termed “Indigenous archives of resistance,” or examples of Indigenous people standing up against and working to overturn persistent structural violence. Ultimately, Dr. McCoy encouraged us to continue to create Indigenous-focused futures.
Finally, it’s vital to note how many groups, departments, and divisions came together to make this educational opportunity happen. Sponsors include the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance, the College of Education (Dean’s Office, Dept. of Educational Leadership, Diversity for Community Committee, Social Justice Education Graduate Certificate), the College of Arts and Sciences (Dean’s Office, Dept. of English, Diversity Committee, Dept. of American Ethnic Studies), the Kansas State University LGBT Resource Center, the Dow Center for Multicultural and Community Studies at K-State Libraries, the Morse Department of Special Collections, the KSU Multicultural Engineering Program, Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs, the Office of Institutional Equity, National Geographic Society Explorers, the Chapman Center for Rural Studies, and the K-State Alumni Association.
— Lisa Tatonetti, Professor of English and Secretary, Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance, Kansas State University