We are still here: an open letter

Joe Gaskill, Contributor

Boozhoo, to my fellow students and readers.

I cannot and do not claim to speak for all Indigenous people on our campus or larger community because we all are unique. No, we are not all just Natives, Indigenous people or a bunch of Indians; we have our own cultures, languages, tribes, nations and traditional names as the first peoples of this land. I speak my own thoughts, experiences and perspectives on these issues.

In the wake of Augsburg’s recent addition to its history of racial discrimination, many students have been questioning what it means to have true diversity and inclusion on campus as we all engage within various multi-cultural spaces daily. As an Indigenous student leader, I support our community’s need to further understand marginalized people. I hope to leave you all with an important idea from a marginalized mind: Listen to our voices, especially the voices of the original peoples of this land.

Although you may have your Ph.D., bachelor’s degree or even a single transformational conversation as a societally powerful, white body on campus, you will never understand, fully, what it means to be part of a marginalized community; especially the experiences Indigenous, Native peoples on campus.

It shouldn’t fall to the seven to eight percent of the campus’ student body to continuously check and be sure that the campus community is educated about our existence, as we still have to. No, it’s the job of those cultural outsiders to seek self-education by reaching out to question their lack of misconstrued information of Indigenous peoples and listen to our community’s voices on our Indigenous history. Even if I told you about our history, you would likely not remember our stories, or believe them, until you lived in the wake of our Ancestors’ experiences.

So when you have questions and seek to better understand our perspectives, please leave the floor to the cultural experts of our history. Listen to Native youth, young adults and respected elders when discussing our experiences and perspectives. Our history has been painted and pieced together from Western perspectives to the point that the entire field of American Indian history comes from the colonizers’ perspective; told from their political relations towards Indigenous peoples, not from the starved Native voices that have been needed for generations to tell the complete story of this nation.

So when a tall, greasy-faced Native with frizzy hair takes the mic to calmly speak, or when a well-dressed Indigenous, rocking their braids and culture with pride, takes the floor, do nothing but listen. Hear their stories, the traditional, oral histories that conflict with your accepted, Westernized view of Indigenous history. They open the floor and speak of our history from a rich, traditional voice, rather than the Westernized perspective that breeds an infectious historical-fantasy.

If you do not accept our voices, you do not accept our history. If you do not accept our overlooked cultural perspectives, you will not accept the forced invasions of our homelands, the forced enculturation of our people or the ramifications of generational trauma to our people when we were banished to live in a land of Westernized fantasy. Apparently where the grass is always green, the rivers always flow and the skies are always blue.

Listen to us. Never forget our voices.

*Boozhoo is translated as “greetings” from the Ojibwe/Anishinaabe language

This article was originally published in the April 26, 2019 issue.