By Alan Chavoya, graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion
Recently, Marquette hosted three distinct events related to issues affecting Native American communities. On Feb. 6, David Archambault II (Lakota name: Tokala Ohitika, “Brave Fox”), activist and former tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota, delivered a powerful and informative address, “Standing with Tribes — Past, Present and Future.” In it, Archambault described Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the oil industry and the federal government’s plans to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline within the context of the historical struggles Indigenous nations and groups of the Americas have been facing since 1492.
On Feb. 19, as part of Constitutional Consciousness Week, Dr. Bryan Rindfleisch, assistant professor of history, and Ernest (Ernie) Stevens III, an Oneida Council member, led a Soup with Substance session, “Tribal Constitutions and Indian Law.” Like Archambault, Rindfleisch and Stevens documented the historical and legal relations between Indigenous nations, particularly the Oneida Nation, and the U.S. government in order to demonstrate how various Indigenous nations have been forced to adopt Western norms of governance, i.e. written constitutions. Despite the historical coercion, the Oneida Nation, according to Stevens, has displayed a dynamic resistance, allowing the nation to adapt to shifting societal circumstances.
On March 1, Lea S. Denny, Native Hawaiian and founder and CEO of Healing Intergenerational Roots Wellness Center, shed light on the disturbing reality of Indigenous women and girls who disappear or are murdered each year. A recent report by the Urban Indian Health Institute identified 506 cases across 71 U.S. cities of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, though the report acknowledges the numbers are likely an undercount due to poor data collection by several cities. As Denny highlighted, one of the most significant factors influencing the alarming rates of MMIWG cases is sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is a global problem, and Denny contextualized it locally, detailing its impact on Native Americans in the U.S. While MMIWG is only a recently adopted term, Denny explained its historical roots — the raping, murdering, enslavement, and trafficking of Indigenous women and girls during colonization, the sexual abuse in federally funded and often church-run boarding schools, the abuse experienced in the foster care system, and the present abuse arising in “man-camps,” centers typically located near reservations where male workers in the oil industry remain isolated for weeks or months as they work lengthy shifts. Though deeply unsettling, Denny said we need courage to face these issues. We cannot continue ignoring this problem, especially since Milwaukee is one of the epicenters of sex trafficking in which Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately impacted.
Although the events focused on unique issues, several commonalities were noticeable. Here are some of the most important takeaways:
- European colonizers did not discover the Americas.
Archambault’s address began with the following reminder: Marquette’s campus is situated on land that was inhabited by various Native American tribes and nations long before Marquette was founded. Such a reminder is important not only for historical accuracy, but also for understanding that humans inhabited the Americas prior to 1492. Long before Columbus and the first European colonizers made contact with the Native Americans of the so-called “New World,” these lands witnessed the rise of advanced civilizations and nations with sophisticated governance, medicine, mathematics, agriculture, technology and philosophy.
The myth of discovery and superiority has permeated the fabric of this country, even influencing the Declaration of Independence, in which Jefferson refers to Native American nations as “merciless Indian savages.” This country was founded on the exclusion of Indigenous nations and communities, and the situation at Standing Rock, the jurisdictional problems involving Indian Law and federal law, and the countless disappearances and murders of Indigenous women and girls illustrate that this exclusion remains alive and well.
- The past is not simply a past one encounters in history books.
As Archambault, Denny and Stevens explained, understanding the present struggles in Native American and First Nation communities, and imagining future projects dedicated to rejecting injustices experienced by Native Americans, requires one to perceive the manners in which past injustices permeate and inform the present and future. The significance of the protests and resilience at Standing Rock and the grassroot efforts to document and investigate MMIWG cases cannot be properly understood independent of the centuries of injustices, genocide, exploitation and expropriation.
Whether past treaties were violated by the federal government to build those “damn dams” (as Archambault described them), railroads, or mines within sacred land, these past violations are manifested today as the oil industry and federal government attempt to build an oil pipeline running through the Black Hills and an aquifer vital to the region. Indigenous activists opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline are concerned with their present circumstances, but they are also well aware of how the pipeline is the latest in a long history of federal and privately funded projects designed to bleed sacred land of its resources at the expense of Indigenous lives.
- As a Catholic institution, we have important leverage to support Indigenous communities.
Archambault noted that as a Catholic, Jesuit institution, Marquette is in a privileged position to petition Pope Francis to rescind the Inter Caetera Papal Bull. Known as the “Doctrine of Discovery” and the foundation of Johnson v. McIntosh, it has been repeatedly used by U.S. courts to adjudicate and threaten the sovereignty of Native American tribes. Rescinding the Papal Bull may provide legal support for cases made against laws and policies legitimating the theft of these lands and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. We cannot remain complicit in the face of these injustices. Such complicity is not in accordance with our mission. We have a particular platform to address this country’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, and we can be an active participant in remedying those historical wrongs that are so entrenched in the fabric of this country.
Learn more online about priorities adopted by the Society of Jesus and approved by Pope Francis which include defending the culture and dignified existence of Indigenous peoples.
To learn more about the histories and cultures of these Native American tribes who live in the Great Lakes region, visit The Ways.