Monday, October 10, 2022 was Indigenous Peoples Day. At Kansas State, it was the seventh year that the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance organized an Indigenous Peoples Day Conference.
This year’s theme, “Indigenous Kansas: Past, Present, and Future,” brought tribal leaders, Indigenous language specialists, legislators, activists, parents, teachers, college and high school students, clergy, and community members to campus to fill over 400 seats in K-State’s Alumni Center.
Keynote speakers included: Kaw Nation citizens Desireé Storm Brave and Pauline Sharp; Osage Secretary of Secretary of Culture, Language, and Education, Vann Bighorse; Tribal chairs Ben Barnes (Shawnee Nation), Lester Randall (Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas), and Zeke Rupnick (Prairie Band Potawatomi), and Vice Chair of the Kiowa Tribe, Jacob Tsotigh; the Communications Director of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, Olivia Brien; Director of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Department of Education and K-State doctoral student, Carrie Whitlow; Indigenous Initiatives Research Associate and Educational Leadership doctoral student Kelly Berry (Apache); and a round-table of past and present Kansas State student leaders. They were joined by a host of other Indigenous speakers and a handful of allies, who, together, shared the varied and powerful stories of Indigenous Kansas.
There was representation from across the English Department at the event, and, among these attendees, four graduate students from ENGL 830 “Sovereign Erotics: Queer Indigenous Literatures and Theory,” come together for today’s blog post to share their experiences.
Achilles Seastrom (MA ’23), an MA student working in creative non-fiction, attended the opening event, “Kaw and Osage Histories in Kansas,” in which Vann Bighorse gave a talk and Pauline Sharp a first-person historical performance of her Grandmother, Lucy Tayiah Eads, the first woman chief of the Kaw.
Achilles reflected on feeling a place-based connection to the talks, noting,
Vann Bighorse’s and Pauline Sharp’s presentations represented two individual strands of a story tightly woven and shared by many. The creative differences in their presentations were impactful for the ways each reflected the needs of an individual while sharing a history that includes numerous people. I thought of my own heritage as Bighorse and Sharp spoke, noting that my father’s family, the Schartzs, probably arrived in Kansas about the same time Bighorse says the Osage were moved to Kansas in the mid 1800s. The Osage, however, were “whittled down,” as Bighorse put it, both in land and in people, while the Schartzs proliferated. Schartz is a common name in Larned, KS even now. Bighorse mentioned at the beginning of his talk that the goal of the day was not to make anyone “feel bad,” surely referencing the violent history of settler colonialism that led to Kaw and Osage Indigenous removals from Kansas. I don’t know that I don’t feel bad for the juxtaposed experiences of my family and the Kaw and Osage Nations, but I am happy to hear the story of a thread so closely woven to mine and I am hopeful in our ability to continue to share the stories of our interwoven experience.
Pauline Sharp, Past Vice-President of the Kaw Nation Cultural Committee, and Alex Redcorn, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership / Co-Chair – K-State Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance / Executive Director – Kansas Association for Native American Education (KANAE)
Hunter Scott (MA ’22), an MA student who successfully defended his MA project just this past week, attended a break-out session in the ballroom, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, and Trans People (MMIWG2ST) Legislation and Developments in Kansas.”
While there were so many highlights from today’s events and panels, I was particularly struck by the role art can play in the spreading awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, and Trans (MMIWG2ST) Movement. As local activist Robert Hicks (Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe) and Kansas State Representative Christina Haswood (Diné) reminded us, data surrounding the epidemic of violence is fallible and, often, invisible. There are huge disparities in the number of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples depending on who keeps the records. Even then, accessing those records is another barrier, Rep. Haswood pointed out. When data collection and the ostensibly objective fails, art can help to illuminate the problem. Theatrical productions such as Missing and Love Bomb or art installations like The REDress Project can bring attention to issues that are otherwise ignored or unseen. At the same time, however, we must be critical of the role art plays, for the iconography of the MMIWG2ST movement has been–and continues to be–co-opted by dominant groups without actually helping Indigenous causes. Just as art makes for a more robust approach to ending cycles of violence against Indigenous women, girls, Two Spirit, and Trans peoples, so does our educated allyship best serve Indigenous communities.
Cecilia Pick (MA ’23), an MA student working with experimental literature, and Kinsley Searles (BA ’22, MA ’24), an MA student who is a member of the Chapman Center Kansas Land Treaty Project, both reflected on the final session, “Indigenous Histories of Western Kansas: Medicine Lodge Treaties in the Present.”
Attending this session was a powerful way to learn about how Indigenous history shapes current efforts to empower nations. Referring to those who belong to these nations, Mr. Tsotigh (Kiowa) reminds us, “We are not members; we are citizens.” This recognition of tribal sovereignty is important because it demonstrates that Indigenous nations are still present and the attempt at eradication was unsuccessful. Kelly Berry (Kiowa-Apache) echoes this focus on the unsuccessful attempt at eradication through his experiences as a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Education. While visiting elementary schools, a young student asked if he also lived in a tipi. Shocked at the question, he looked at their social studies teacher who had lowered her head to the desk. Students kept asking questions and one of them pointed out that they had recently been taught that Indigenous peoples can speak to animals. Again, Berry looked at the teacher. Berry’s point in sharing the story was not to shame the teacher, but instead to demonstrate how educators hold the powerful responsibility of educating themselves to ensure that Indigenous peoples are properly represented in the classroom. This teacher education would help contest the attempts at eradication that have been perpetuated for centuries. The importance of education was also a highlight of the comments offered by Carrie Whitlow (Cheyenne and Arapaho) who strongly believes in taking responsibility for the education of tribal citizens because she wants the young generation to feel empowered in their identity. She acknowledges that the current educational system is broken because it is dependent on settler colonialism. To this point, Berry advocates for the recognition of oral history as a crucial source of information because written history, written by colonizers, often misrepresents tribal nations. More can be said, but I want to highlight how strong the speakers’ messages were in helping the audience understand the need to empower citizens of tribal nations, and especially younger generations, to feel proud of their identity and to go into the world and prove how settler colonialism has been unsuccessful in eradicating their culture.
Carrie Whitlow, Director of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Department of Education / K-State Adult Learning and Leadership Doctoral student
Kinsley Searles, then, offers our final commentary on K-State’s Indigenous Peoples Day.
As both a presenter and attendee of Indigenous People’s Day, I had the opportunity to experience the event from multiple perspectives. Between presenting as part of the “Kaw Treaty Project” break-out session and listening to the “Indigenous People of Western Kansas: Medicine Lodge Treaty Nations in the Present,” the event was a valuable learning experience. This year’s IPD was, in my opinion, particularly special, as it focused upon Indigenous histories specifically in Kansas. It is important that each of us recognizes the history of the land on which we stand as members of an institution, community, state, and country. In addition, we must center Indigenous perspectives when discussing that land. In the “Indigenous People of Western Kansas” session, I had the opportunity to hear of the experiences of three members of former Medicine Lodge Treaty nations. It was fascinating to hear the histories and current events of the Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, and Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. Towards the end of the session, the panelists were asked a question about governance and sovereignty within their individual tribes. Presenter Carrie Whitlow put it succinctly– and powerfully– when she said, “we do whatever we want!” This message stuck with me, as it emphasized Indigenous sovereignty and independence. In this way, Whitlow proved that, despite everything, Indigenous people continue to exist and thrive. Ultimately, I came away from IPD with not only a stronger understanding of Kansas history, but with hope for the future as well.
Kinsely Searles (BA ’22, MA ’24) presents her research
I share our students’ observations as a small window into K-State’s 2022 gathering, which, among our many visitors, included more than 80 teachers from the Royal Valley School district and nearly 100 visiting high school students.
As a member of the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance who co-plans the conference with amazing collaborators like IFSA co-chairs Alex Red Corn (Osage) and LaVerne Bitsie-Baldwin (Diné), and IFSA members Debra Bolton (Ohkay Owingeh), Melissa Poll (settler), Brandon Haddock (Cherokee), Audrey Swartz (Miami), and Charlie Barden (settler), I want to say that Indigenous Peoples Day is one of the moments I am most proud to be a Wildcat.
This is the way we educate. This is the way we work together to make change.
— Lisa Tatonetti, Professor of English