Chadra Pittman explained the long history of dehumanization of Indigenous and African people, and warned that the battle for justice is still not yet won. In her virtual presentation—titled
“‘I, Too, Am America:’ Stolen Land, Stolen People and the Forced Migrations of the Native and the African”—she dove into the different ways Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) have been mistreated by white European colonizers, starting with Christopher Columbus and going through present times.
Pittman rejected the idea that Columbus found the Americas. She started her presentation with a song by the Legacy of Weyanoke, which honored the Indigenous people of the Americas and included lines like “you can’t make the discovery of someone else’s property.” She began her history lesson there, and it was with sorrow and bitterness that she spoke about Columbus and those who helped him colonize the land.
Pittman walked participants through further mistreatment of Indigenous and African people, particularly in the sense of killing them. She emphasized the diseases that the Europeans—starting with the Spanish and Portuguese, but continuing through with the English—brought with them, effectively killing most Indigenous people in the area. One statistic she kept coming back to was about the Powhatan Chiefdom. She said that the Powhatan Chiefdom had about 12,000 people when the English arrived in Jamestown, but that by the end of the century, only 1,000 remained.
Disease was not the only violence perpetrated against Indigenous people discussed by Pittman. She said that the Trail of Tears was “largely due to the expansion of the settlers, largely due to the fact that they wanted that land, largely due to the fact that the land had gold in it.” But, she said that Indigenous people fought back against the settlers, using the example of the Dade Massacre, when 180 Seminole people attacked one hundred settlers in Florida, leaving only three alive. Her history lesson ended by looking at where the United States is today, particularly in the treatment of Black people by police and the way officers have locked immigrant children in cages. She said that the maltreatment is still there, it has just evolved to fit the times.
In thinking about the history of the United States, she asked participants to think about the sources they learn from. “These images, these comments about native people being called savages … who controls the narrative?” She warned against this narrative of “othering,” saying, “the only way that we’re going to move this forward is if we come together as humanity.”
Coming together in the pursuit of justice is what Pittman truly stands for as a person. According to her bio on the event description, “Chadra Pittman is Founder & Executive Director of The Sankofa Projects (where she works to preserve the legacy, history & culture of the African diaspora) and 4 E.V.E.R. (End Violence End Rape), an activist organization that seeks to end sexual violence, eradicate rape culture while advocating for deaf and LGBTQ inclusion across the four directions of the Earth.” In her presentation, she explained that she focuses on using the past to look forward towards change. “To know where you’re going, you must know where you come from.”
This event took place on Zoom at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 11. This event was one of many Indigenous People’s Day events hosted by Brandeis. This event was sponsored by the Intercultural Center; Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at the Heller School; Departments of Women and Gender Studies and African and African American Studies; Brandeis Library; Office of Graduate Affairs; Dean’s Co-Curricular Grant; Gender and Sexuality Center; Film, Television and Interactive Media Program and Women’s Studies Research Center.