Indigenous educator spreads awareness on generational struggles

Quinnipiac University’s Indigenous Student Union and Latino Cultural Society hosted an event with Indigenous educator and advocate Cliff Matias in the Carl Hansen Student Center Piazza on March 27 to discuss decolonizing education and the challenges Indigenous people face.

Matias, the cultural director at Redhawk Native American Arts Council and international president of REDRUM Motorcycle Club discussed the significance behind holidays with Indigenous roots, acknowledging land rights and the impact of Indigenous mascots in professional sports leagues such as the NFL.

“A lot of times it’s politically correcting people, on Halloween when people are putting warbonnets on and dressing up as Native Americans, you got to step up and say, ‘It’s just not cool.’ And they’re like, ‘Why?’ and then you have to break that down,” Matias said.

As an Indigenous person, Matias said he is always educating people because he gets asked questions such as, “Do you guys still live in teepees?”

Amada Arroyo, a junior 3+1 biochemistry and molecular cell biology double major and ISU vice president, said that Matias was chosen to speak at the event because his work focuses on decolonizing education. Especially at a school named Quinnipiac, Arroyo said it’s important for students to know the origin of the name.

“It really affects many students of color when people are ignorant or they ask you ignorant questions,” Arroyo said. “It makes it even more exhausting for students so I hope people learn about the work that (Matias) does and decoloniality.”

According to IGI Global, decolonial theory is a “theoretical framework that takes into consideration the systemic nature in which oppressive policy affects the lives of formerly colonized people.”

Matias discussed the idea of land acknowledgment and appreciating the land that people reside on but he explained that there’s a lot more that can be done.

“A lot of universities, government agencies, corporations, companies, are now doing land acknowledgments as sort of what they can contribute to Indigenous people then they step back,” Matias said.

Quinnipiac is in the process of getting a land acknowledgement to show that the land was once owned by the Quinnipiac tribe as a part of the university’s Indigeneity Initiative, according to an April 2021 Chronicle article.

Matias said people should “give homage” and respect the land that exists today and to the Indigenous people of Connecticut such as the Pequots, Mohegans, Schaghticoke and several other bands and tribes that no longer exist.

“We recognize that we are on their land and as Indigenous people, acknowledging the land and coming onto someone else’s land in a good way and asking permission in that good way is what we do,” Matias said.

Matias discussed the controversy surrounding the day historically acknowledged as Columbus Day and how in many areas it is now referred to as Indigenous People’s Day. He said that in New York, Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day will be celebrated together but other cities such as Los Angeles and Seattle have made this change permanently.

“Which is really utterly preposterous because the only reason we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on that Monday is to say despite Columbus, despite this creator of the Transatlantic Slave Trade … our traditions have survived and we as Indigenous people are still here,” Matias said.

The Indigenous educator said that the biggest issue Indigenous people have with NFL teams using Native Americans as mascots is that they feel like they don’t have allies in the fight against this.

“We are the poorest people in America, the highest percentage of teenage alcoholics, drug abuse, unemployment, all the statistics and we are still used as mascots for America’s fun and games,” Matias said.

According to the Foundation for Economic Education, “the federal government has legislated Native Americans into perpetual poverty. The institutions that federal agencies designed limit opportunities to own homes, develop and invest in their property and discourage entrepreneurs from starting businesses.”

Arielys Medina, a first-year health science studies major in the occupational therapy program attended the event and she said that she is Taíno, and has always wanted to explore her ancestry further.

“I was just curious to learn about my own culture, since I feel like I love being Puerto Rican and Dominican but I feel like I don’t know a lot about my Indigeneity side,” Medina said.

Kaylee Chmieleski, a sophomore marketing major, said she loves coming to events to learn about different cultures because she is not as exposed to them as she would like to be.

“I feel like it’s not accentuated enough that we live on Indigenous land so when (Matias) asked how can we better emphasize that in our campus community, I thought that was a really good point because I feel like if you’re going to go (to Quinnipiac) you need to know what it’s about,” Chmieleski said.