It’s rare when Indigenous issues are discussed and highlighted in the national media. It’s rarer still when successive headlines carry news of legal and cultural victories for tribal nations. A recent wave of positive news shows us the power of persistent and undaunted Indigenous advocacy, which can inspire our individual and collective efforts at Evergreen.
On July 6th, a U.S. district court ruled for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes, when it ordered the Dakota Access pipeline be emptied and shut down, pending full environmental impact review of the project.
In another landmark Indian law case, the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld tribal sovereignty when it recognized reservation boundaries as drawn by a 19th-century treaty, impacting nearly half of Oklahoma. American Indians who commit crimes on the eastern Oklahoma reservation will be prosecuted by tribal or federal authorities, not state or local law enforcement.
Writing the majority opinion of the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated: “On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. … Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”
(For more information on the case and its connection to the Black Lives matter movement, see “Most Important Indian Law Case in Half a Century”: Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Sovereignty in OK.)
This week, after decades of organized pressure, Washington DC’s NFL football team finally decided to change its racist name. “This day is brought about by Native Peoples and our BIPOC partners moving the country toward racial and social justice,” declared artist-activist Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee). Harjo, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, was the lead plaintiff and organizer of Harjo et al v. Pro Football, Inc. (1992-2009).
What does all of this mean for our American Indian/Alaska Native and Indigenous students at Evergreen? Looking back on our own Evergreen history, we see the Longhouse as an example of exceptional change brought about by Native people and their allies. They did not give up until faculty member Mary Ellen Hillaire’s vision for a gathering place for people of all cultures was realized in 1995.
Today we see how the Indigenous Arts Campus has transformed the west end of campus into a place where honoring Native heritage is part of the landscape. The Native American and Indigenous Programs at Evergreen are a source of growth and strength, as students, alumni, faculty and staff work on vital issues such as land and water protection, tribal sovereignty, and MMIW, (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women).
Looking ahead to the fall, the divisions of Inclusive Excellence and Student Success and Indigenous Arts, Education & Tribal Relations will co-host activities in recognition of Coming Out Day on October 11th and Indigenous Peoples Day on October 12th. We invite you to get involved, to help us walk our talk as we center equity at the college.
As we face the challenge and uncertainty of the ever-changing landscape of our world, let’s allow ourselves to be inspired and emboldened by those who conquered their fears, who never gave up, and who ultimately made change possible for those who would come after them. Ayaangwamazin is an Ojibwe concept for “take heart, be careful, keep going!”
Tina Kuckkahn-Miller, J.D., (Ojibwe)
Vice President of Indigenous Arts, Education, and Tribal Relations