Six hours to fit in centuries of indigeneity

The Albert Schweitzer Institute hosted its annual Indigeneity Initiative Teach-In

We all know the classic story of the first Thanksgiving — loads of noble Englishmen arrived in America a long time ago and held a peaceful feast with the local Indigenous community. The version of the first Thanksgiving most of us are familiar with fails to include the Indigenous peoples’ point of view, a recurring theme within American education.

Quinnipiac University’s Albert Schweitzer Institute held its second day-long Indigeneity Initiative Teach-In on Nov. 9, in the Carl Hansen Student Center Piazza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The event started discussions with students, faculty and staff on Quinnipiac’s Indigenous roots, the impact of colonization, the untold perspectives of Indigenous communities and many of the speaker’s personal stories.

“(Indigenous) peoples have been marginalized and peoples have been erased from the histories of the places that they’ve inhabited for a very, very long time,” said Sean Duffy, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute and professor of political science. “That’s somewhat the focus of our initiative here on campus is to try to embrace that fact and try to reverse that fact.”

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For Americans, Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion to indulge an abundance of home-cooked foods with their loved ones. The four-century-old tradition is meant to mimic the first feast between the pilgrims of Plymouth and members of the Wampanoag tribe. Households across the nation pull up a chair with limited knowledge on the historical event’s real-life impact on Indigenous nations.

Christina Dickerson, assistant professor of history, started the day with a retelling of the first Thanksgiving through the lens of the Indigenous people and examined how we can collectively transform our misguided perception of Indigenous history.

“You should rethink (the first Thanksgiving) by recognizing what it meant and means for Indigenous nations,” Dickerson said. “For them, it’s the beginning of this English colonization process. It’s the beginning of being displaced, suffering from all these types of diseases, losing their lands (and) losing their ability to live as they want to on their own land.”

Dickerson encouraged guests to visit the Akomawt Educational Initiative website, watch the PBS documentary, “We Shall Remain: After the Mayflower,” pick up the books “If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving” by Chris Newell and “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” by Jill Lepore, to further learn more about indigeneity and the troubling history of the first Thanksgiving.

J.T. Torres, assistant professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, spoke next on the concept of “decolonizing a university” versus “the decolonizing university.”

Torres said all universities are essentially colonial institutions

because they operate through an assemblage of colonial inventions. Decolonizing a university directly confronts and critiques the colonial structure and assemblage of power within any teaching institution such as the grading system or attendance policy.

Incorporating diverse and modern ideals within colonial technologies is one way to decolonize a university and allow for more freedom to its student body. Torres used the example of allowing his students to write in any language that they feel comfortable with in his classroom. This allowance still uses

the format of a teacher allocating a writing assignment, but it flips the narrative as it allows the students to write in their preferred language.

“When we decolonize the university, we’re still operating within some of these relationships with power — such as having someone to allow you to speak and write and think the way that you know how to speak it,” Torres said.

The decolonizing university, on the other hand, completely transforms colonial technologies with the intent of liberation rather than simply improving upon them.

“This is all about flipping the script,” Torres said. “Not just becoming really good at the script, not just critiquing and trashing the scripts, but also how we make use of the script.”

The first student speaker of the day, Kiara Tantaquidgeon, founder and former president of the Indigenous Student Union, discussed indigenizing education, what it means to her and her journey at Quinnipiac.

Tantaquidgeon, a senior health science studies major, had planned to change schools after her first year at Quinnipiac due to the university not having as big an Indigenous presence.

“I wanted to go to a school where I could be a part of such a community and have a support system designed for Indigenous students,” Tantaquidgeon said. “As well as a connection to my culture and history.”

Tantaquidgeon decided to continue her education at Quinnipiac but with the plan of building an Indigenous community and converting Quinnipiac into a more inclusive institution.

“I personally could not wait to transfer and go somewhere that had all that I desired,” Tantaquidgeon said.“But something did
not feel right about leaving. I thought, ‘what if there are other students like me who long for this community?’”

To conclude the morning’s events, the Student Government Association spoke about the Legend of the Bobcat, its appropriated origin and whether or not it should be revised or replaced completely.

“We’re having larger-scale conversations with the Indigenous community about the Legend of the Bobcat,” said Jeremy Gustafson, a senior economics and political science double major and the SGA vice president for inclusion. “And see how we can transform it and rewrite it to make it not cultural appropriation and to foster a better sense of community.”

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However, it is important to note that indigeneity is not exclusive to the Americas. Associate professor of history Nita Verma Prasad discussed how Western colonization impacted the status of Muslim people in India.

She started her presentation by showing the discrimination that the 200 million Muslims in India are currently facing at the hands of Hindu-nationalist groups. Then, she went back in time to show how it came to that.

Muslim people initially came to the subcontinent around 700 A.D. They created kingdoms of great power, including the Mughal Empire of the 1500s A.D. Through the hundreds of years of living side-by-side with the Indigenous Hindu people, the religions started to fuse as Muslim leaders took characteristics of different religions and applied them to their own.

“Centuries of cultural assimilation and absorption meant that the Mughals’ version of Islam took on an Indian, even Hindu, flavor and

adopted local, native characteristics,” Prasad said. “By the 1500s … you literally could go to any Hindu temple or Muslim mosque in India and there would be two prayer books sitting up on the dais.”

When the British colonized India in the 1800s, the Muslims who came to the subcontinent over a thousand years prior had become indigenized, but as time went on and society became rigid with identity, they became outsiders once again.

“We live in a world with really rigid dividing lines,” Prasad said. “You’re either an outsider or an insider. You’re a native or you’re an immigrant. In India, you’re a Hindu or a Muslim … We neatly pigeonhole them into discrete compartments.”

Prasad created the presentation to rewrite the narrative of the “Muslim boogeyman” that British colonizers and Hindu nationalists created to discriminate against Muslims.

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Following Prasad, Jennifer Dauphinais, assistant teaching professor of education, told the story of the Métis people of Canada through her lived experience.

While doing genealogical research, Dauphinais found that several of her ancestors were Métis — mixed-race — people who were marked as “savage” or “illiterate” in the Canadian census. She traced her line all the way to Jean Nicolet, a French explorer known to be the first European to step foot in Wisconsin.

Frenchmen like Nicolet would marry Indigenous women and have children with them to “integrate rather than dominate” the Indigenous population. At the same time, residential schools across Canada tortured and killed Indigenous children, hoping to, as Gen. Richard H. Pratt put it, “kill the Indian and save the man.”

“I believe the story I shared today highlights a hairline of how we got here,” Dauphinais said. “These colonial narratives paint a romantic picture of conquerors, and at the same time erase the women who carried the generations and this work.”

By addressing the colonial narrative that students are often presented in schools, Dauphinais hopes to begin changing the story at the source by educating future teachers.

“We know that our K-12 curriculum is not accurate, nor thorough,” Dauphinais said. “It’s biased, it’s Eurocentric, it’s white … We’ve really got a huge project there with critical curriculum studies and discourse analysis.”

Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Leadership Development and associate professor of sociology Donald Sawyer addressed
his search for answers in his genealogy, and how he found something he never knew about.

Sawyer always identified as African American and traced his ancestors to a plantation in South Carolina, where their names were not recorded, halting his search in that branch of his family history.

“I couldn’t go any further because there were no names being associated with the people that were owned at that time,” Sawyer said. “It’s like slave one, slave two, slave three and slave four were my ancestors, but I have no connection to them because their history was cut off at that point in time.”

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However, Sawyer felt like his father did not fall under that umbrella. When searching through his genealogy, he found that his father descended from the Shinnecock Tribe of Long Island. When he saw portraits of Shinnecock people taken by someone on Long Island, he knew that’s where his family traced back to.

“It clicked for me because I saw my grandmother’s and my father’s, my great grandmother’s face in the people that he captured in his photos,” Sawyer said.

Much like the history of his ancestors in South Carolina, Sawyer’s Shinnecock ancestry was erased by census-takers who did not care about the nuances of the Afro-Indigenous identity, leaving him to discover it in adulthood.

Sawyer’s family’s experience exemplifies the haze that white documentarians have created over the histories of both Black and Indigenous people.

Moving from the Shinnecock people to indigenity in East Haven, Connecticut, anthropology associate professor Julia Giblin shared that there’s more Indigenous land in the state than we are familiar with.

She presented a case study from the Burwell-Karako excavations in East Haven, Connecticut. The site contains 273,441 artifacts. It is a multicomponent site from the Middle Archaic through the late Woodland periods (about 3000 B.C. to 200 B.C.). Burwell is located north of the New Haven reservation and other important places to Quinnipiac.

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In the past, amateur archaeologists only focused on the artistic aspect of artifacts rather than the cultural meaning. Their motive was to profit from the objects displayed.

“You know, trying to get new beautiful points for using their collections, (there was) a market incentive,” Giblin said. “There’s really a lack of methodology a lot of times.”

Archaeologists in Connecticut today are working to make commitments to build stronger relationships with Indigenous communities by helping identify and resettle historic documents.

Political science assistant professor Marcos Scauso presented “Settling the United States: Epistemic Politics in the Institutionalization of Othering,” at the next event. His general concern was “How do epistemic notions relate, in the institutional history of the United States, to the construction of ‘Latin America” as an ‘other’?”

“One side is to recreate and reinforce the archive which I think it’s a lot of the work that has been done so far of rebuilding the histories that colonialism has erased,” Scauso said.

Scauso spoke on the questionable and all-reality foundation of life: God. Often taken as a starting point for people’s motives, beliefs and actions, God may be universally bounded but it has a boundary — applicable to everything else through othering.

“There’s no authority because there’s no connection to God,” Scauso said. “Therefore, there is emptiness … and finally any alternative of resistance becomes a form of an element and every different kind of project of resistance and enactments and way of life becomes a threat to civilization.”

However, there is a spectrum of disputes about who knows the truth. Scauso explained that people have to set boundaries for themselves, whether it is separating themselves from validation of reality or validation spiritually.

Director of Global Learning Erin Sabato shared the importance of community-driven Indigenous learning. Sabato went to Guatemala where she met a local woman who taught her about the roots of the country.

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“It was honestly one of the most poignant moments of my life and had set the foundation for my career,” Sabato said. “In Guatemala, I learned about the significance of language and how she asked me to translate specific words in a certain way, the verb chart. For example, ‘to struggle’ instead of ‘fight’ because of the (connotation of the) latter.”

Sabato explained that people can spend a long time studying, but they will never get the real value without traveling.

“We spent a lot of time learning about the history of what we call one model,” Sabato said. “It’s imperative that students understand the local context of the locations they travel to. When discussing the itinerary for the program with you there I asked if we could have speakers come and present about the history of the country to the students.”

ISU President Gabriella Colello finished the event with “Indigeneity & Institutions: Global & Local Lessons from Moana Nui.” She surveyed the audience on how many people traveled to Hawaii or attended a lūʻau-themed party. Colello then questioned if they knew the cultural context behind it.

Colello danced professionally where she performed at children’s birthday parties or participated in dance companies. However, she noticed that she was hypersexualized when performing at events.

“I can remember quite a few times when I showed up to kids’ birthday parties thinking I was going to be dancing for a bunch of five-year-old girls, and it was a gathering of grown men upset that I was not a sex worker,” Colello said. “I realized what I was in the eyes of the people around when I walked in that identity so that kind of led me to ask certain questions. I always wish that at some point in school people would talk about Pacific Islanders.”

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Colello took relevant coursework at Quinnipiac such as “Political Theory” and “International Relations” to understand different types of globalization. However, she felt there was still something missing. The university lacked educational opportunities so Colello took matters into her own hands, creating a Pacific Island studies course.

“I’m actually designing a course in Pacific studies with the hope that it will be included as an elective,” Colello said. “… I had the experiences I had as a Pacific Islander in Connecticut, and I have a lot of peers in Connecticut without those experiences.”

The day-long Indigeneity Initiative Teach-In closed with remarks from ISU. It emphasized the change it wanted to see from Quinnipiac to provide a more inclusive environment for Indigenous students.