Claudia Fox Tree: a powerful educator

Claudia Fox Tree (Arawak/Yurumein) spoke at Brandeis last week for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but she has made activism, awareness and education a big part of her life. Fox Tree recognizes the impact of stereotypes and has made an effort to educate others on this topic. “Stereotypes have been an issue for me since I was a kid,” she said in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot, referencing American media that has often depicted Indigenous people in harmful ways.  

But, Fox Tree mentioned that she wasn’t always aware of the research done on the impact of stereotypes. She cited Beverly Daniel Tatum, psychologist and author of “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?,” as her mentor in understanding racial identity development. Fox Tree said that once she learned that there was theory on this topic, she immersed herself in the readings and understandings. She also made sure to learn about cultures other than just her own, specifically mentioning looking into the “model minority” stereotype associated with Asian people. Even though this stereotype reflected what were supposed to be positive qualities, it was still harmful and added an unnecessary pressure. 

Recognizing this harm is what really inspired her to educate herself on stereotypes. “Stereotypes impact everyone—both the dominant and subject groups.” Not only has she recognized impacts on her own life, but she said that she has worked in schools for over 30 years now, so has seen the damaging effects that stereotypes have on kids. She acknowledged that teaching a subject like this to children can be tricky, but said that it was necessary as long as it was done in an age-appropriate way. “Even young kids understand fair and not fair.” Additionally, she spoke about how minorities are often aware of the stereotypes and the darker side of history anyway: by not having these conversations, subject group kids are missing out on a chance to lead a conversation and dominant group kids are not being taught to end stereotyping. 

Fox Tree has resources and recorded presentations about teaching the impact of stereotypes and the importance of ending them. She also has led conversations on “un-erasing Native American First Nations People.” There are two types of conversations, Fox Tree explained. When time is short, Fox Tree lectures on gaps in history, focusing on “truth you might not know.” When she has lots of time to lead discussions, she encourages audience participation, allowing for individual exploration of and reflection on the material.

For all of her hard work, she was honored by the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness. Fox Tree was surprised with this news at their 30th anniversary celebration, where Fox Tree was the mistress of ceremonies. The rest of the team kept this secret before stunning Fox Tree with the award during the actual event. She mentioned being so shocked by the news, noting how a lot of activism and awareness work goes largely unrecognized. “I’m not doing [the work] for the recognition, I’m doing the work because it’s the right thing to do.” 

Outside of her activism, Fox Tree enjoys making jewelry. This started as a small project out of a desire for “regalia that was representative of [her] culture.” She explained that she was familiar with polymer clays, so it wasn’t a particularly hard task. When she made the beads for herself, she had plenty of extras, as the batches can make 100-200 beads at a time, she said. So, she took the extra jewelry to powwows, where they were a hit, leading her to continue making more.  

Claudia Fox Tree is an impactful and dedicated presenter. In her talk on Oct. 12, she delivered a powerful message on the importance of understanding and working to refute stereotypes and biases. 

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