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  • Ashley Torkornoo

Breaking the Silence: A Look at Indigenous People and the Mount Part 1

The 2021 Indigenous People’s Day, a U.S. holiday established in response to Columbus Day, was used to highlight current social issues affecting Indigenous communities. President Biden is the first U.S. President to recognize the federal holiday but in stark contrast to his jester, Native American environmental advocates were arrested at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington for peacefully protesting the North Dakota Pipeline, an oil pipeline that breaks U.S. treaties with Ojibwe people and will cause great environmental damage.

There are many serious social issues impacting Native American communities like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman epidemic, Climate Change, Residential Schools just to name a few.

In honor of November being Native American history month, it is appropriate to start conversations about these issues and what Mount St. Mary’s University as an institution can do to support Indigenous People as well as reparations of the past. Due to the sensitive topics this article will cover, this is a trigger warning to those who may be triggered by conversations regarding genocide.

Before British colonials set sail to what is now called North America, there were about 562 Indigenous tribes and nations. When the colonials came, many Indigenous people died from disease, were forced to migrate and in many cases subjected to brutal genocide that colonials would call “war.” Land treaties were signed and broken. And many policies created by the colonials had plans to eradicate the Indigenous population together.

"People might say to all of this ‘It's something so long ago so why does it matter?’ It's generational and it's embedded in our society we still see the effects of it,” Associate Professor of Native American History Dr. Michelle Patterson explained.

This is known as Indigenous historical trauma. It is trauma that can accumulate across generations that develops as a result of the historical ramifications of colonization. It is linked to mental and physical health hardships and population decline. It is important to recognize that Indigenous people are still here.

"When I teach my students about Native history I don't want my students to see Native people as victims but survivors,” Patterson explained.

The Indigenous peoples of the Americas are still here but so are the issues their communities face. This past summer remains of more than 1,000 Indigenous children were found at former residential schools in Canada. The first 215 remains of children were reported in May by representatives of the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Nation. The bodies were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, run by the Catholic Church in British Columbia from 1890 until 1978.

Just a few weeks later the Cowessess First Nation announced that radar scans detected up to 751 unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. This school was operated by the Catholic Church from 1899 to 1997. Pope Francis agreed to visit the Canadian residential school to begin the process of healing, but many Indigenous leaders hope that he brings more than just an apology.

On Indigenous People’s Day, many Native American environmental activists took to D.C. to protest the North Dakota Pipelines. The main pipeline in question is Line 3, a tar sands pipeline built by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the U.S.

One of the many problems with Line 3 is that it would violate the treaty rights of the Anishinaabeg by endangering primary areas of hunting, fishing, wild rice and cultural resources in the 1855 Treaty Territory. Under federal law, the U.S. government has a responsibility to honor the rights guaranteed to tribal members in their treaties. But Line 3 threatens the way of life, culture and physical survival of the Ojibwe people.

Another issue with Line 3 is many times when construction projects like these happen on treaty territory, Indigenous women are found murdered, go missing or are targets of sexual assault. Because Indigenous People have sovereignty over treaty land, to charge non-Indigenous people with a crime is practically impossible in native and U.S. courts. All of these issues are connected and are happening right now.

These international issues can be seen on a local level here at the Mount. As an institution built on land that is now called America, the biggest question people who want to reprimand the past may ask is who was here before? Part two of this series will dive into the Mount’s history and what the future could be if the proper steps are taken towards healing.


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