After the state of Maine and Bates recognized Indigenous People’s Day, I believed the conversation was going to continue…it didn’t. Months later, the event just became another post on Bates’s social media and was shelved away. After much dust has settled on the importance of that day, the issues surrounding indigenous people and their communities are still present. Issues like missing indigenous women, pipelines being drilled on sacred land, police brutality, and many more issues are only being fought by indigenous people.
In my article about Indigenous People’s Day last October, I wrote about my concerns with my indigenous identity and how I was trying to navigate myself within a predominately white institution. I believe I shouldn’t learn how to “navigate” myself in a space that has not recognized, to the fullest extent, of the land in which they are standing. I should not, as a student of color in a predominantly white institution, learn to navigate myself around these discourses.
What I should be learning is how to dismantle these barriers, along with the rest of the Bates community. Whispers of Bates recognizing the tribes of Maine through a tribal land acknowledgment have been said, but is anything else being done? It is a step in the right direction to open the conversation, but how will the Bates community, or more broadly the Lewiston community keep the conversation going?
Leaving all the responsibility to a student is overwhelming. While I am proud to advocate for indigenous groups, I should not be the only person fighting for what is right. Where are our allies?
The efforts about the violence against indigenous women have failed to provide justice…even protection. Continuing to plague communities across the U.S. and even in Canada, the unknown numbers of murdered or missing indigenous women have staggered above the national average. With no clear definite amount of missing person cases, the tragic stories of women being raped, killed or used for prostitution coupled with the lack of law enforcement on their side have erupted activists to start demanding action.
Dozens of their relatives spoke out about their daughters, mothers, sisters, or best friends, who went missing and now, each missing person becomes even more lost in the stacks of cases–only the cases that have been recorded. Thousands more cases go undocumented.
Often, in the best case scenario these people survive the attack or rape, but the assailant goes away free. Many of the perpetrators in these cases are not charged, and many of them are likely to repeat their offenses. Most of the stories have the same ending, nothing else was done after the incident was brought to law officials’ attention.
Moving onto indigenous land, fossil fuel companies also pose the risk of increasing these numbers. When the permits of pipeline extensions pass, companies often set up a nearby base camp for their workers. Men, coming onto the land in search of work, have sexually assaulted women; additionally, there was one story of a teacher being raped and murdered by two men there looking for work.
Noticing the increase in sexual violence between fossil fuel industries and missing indigenous women, the Canadian government called for a national inquiry into the missing or murdered indigenous women in June of 2019. Another initiative to address the issue was Ida’s Law, named after Ida Beard who was a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who went missing in 2015 and was never found. The law is meant to address the number of missing or murdered Native American and Alaska Native women and children. Angered by having their sisters stolen, indigenous communities also have other concerns as well. The drilling and installment of oil pipelines threaten their livelihood.
Indigenous tribes in Canada are currently protesting a pipeline that would pass through Wet’suwet’en territory. Known as the First Nation, Wet’suwet’en is made up of five clans and located near Burns Lake in British Columbia. The First Nation people state they have never signed a treaty giving up any of their lands to the Canadian government nor granted permission of who is allowed on their land.
In early December of 2019, the company was granted an injunction to allow access onto Wet’suwet’en land for the pipeline to be built. Protesters have camped for weeks, withstanding the cold conditions of the winter, just to block the site of construction. Demonstrators set up a blockade at the site of construction and after a while, Canadian law enforcement forcibly pushed back.
A dozen police were present, along with a helicopter and riverboats in anticipation of the tensions growing between the police and demonstrators. Fourteen demonstrators were arrested and alleged papers between the military stated to use any violence necessary. One indigenous leader spoke out about the long history of colonial violence they have had with this particular law enforcement group, almost as a means to wipe out indigenous groups.
It pains not only me but every indigenous person having to hear or witness our relatives near and far being mistreated, murdered, and massacred by the very government that has sworn to protect them. We are weeping, our ancestors are weeping for us, seeing their children still facing the racism, sexism, and colonialism they fought so bravely to escape from.
Intergenerational trauma is alive and evident in Natives today, most of whom are the ones fighting while dealing with their mental health. I am asking, on behalf of indigenous people all around the world, to educate yourself on these issues. Educate yourself and others, then do something about it. It is not enough for us to carry these burdens and hardships, we are asking you to dismantle the systems of oppression that colonizers have built and prospered from while the rest of us are left the scraps…if we are lucky enough to get them.