In support of the recent campaign to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, the Intercultural Center hosted an Indigenous People’s Day Teach-In throughout the holiday. The teach-in was an invaluable way to educate the Brandeis community about the reasons for the name change and the legacy of oppression.
The schedule included a variety of events in increments throughout the day so that students could stop by at any time, even if just for half an hour, making it easy to fit into their busy schedules. The discussions garnered more support than even the organizers intended; throughout the first few hours, more chairs had to continually be brought into the ICC to accommodate all the students attending.
Programs included talks by Prof. Charles Golden in the Latin American and Latino Studies department and Prof. Greg Childs in the history department, as well as a presentation by Brandeis Climate Justice on the Standing Rock pipeline and the impact of other anti-environmental actions in indigenous communities. The teach-in focused on both historical and present-day contexts, explaining oppression of indigenous people in Mesoamerica during 16th-century Spanish colonization and the modern issues of Standing Rock and environmental justice.
At a university with a remarkably low population of indigenous or Native American students, who may feel invisible not only within national culture, but on campus as well, the teach-in was a valuable resource to educate members of the Brandeis community about an often marginalized group. According to Fall 2015 enrollment statistics, only 0.1 percent of undergraduate students are identified as “American Indian and Alaska Natives.” This comes out to less than five students. Aside from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), there is not an organization specifically for indigenous or Native American students.
The Teach-In also recognized the fact that the burden of educating should not fall on the marginalized group in question. White people, who have a disproportionate amount of privilege, need to use their position of power and resources to educate other white people and do the labor of explaining oppression. We know that it is violent to ask marginalized people to continue to explain why they deserve equal rights. As a majority-white editorial board, we recognize that it is our obligation to support and uplift the voices of historically oppressed groups.
The teach-in was an opportunity to both prioritize marginalized voices and provide a space for white people to educate themselves on issues that they are not forced to face on a daily basis. The better-than-expected attendance rate, as Prof. Espinosa indicated at the tail-end of her presentation, speaks to the willingness of the community to confront the difficult history and continuing oppression of indigenous people.