Posted by on Jun 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

What is activism? Change, the Other Name for the Movement We are All Seeking

By:  Renee Holt

Recently Last Real Indians, in support of Vern Traversie, rallied a gathering of people in Rapid City, South Dakota.  Although some members of the community may believe the rally was a buncha disgruntled Indians focusing on a wild conspiracy that hospital staff inRapid City could be racist, the Traversie rally was in support of a Lakota elder.  Not because he woke up one day on a mission, but because a concerned citizen informed him of the marks on his body.

I can only imagine what made people want to drive or fly toRapid City,South Dakota.  For some it was his plea in asking for help that made them pack up and head to South Dakota.  I personally believe the rally was coordinated to support our elder, but most importantly to demand social justice.

In talking with Chase Iron Eyes, who shared there were people from as far as Germany, Wisconsin, and two buses from Oneida Nation, it occurred to me that people rallied in the name of change.  The people who gathered were demanding social justice and demanding attention to the blatant racism that has occurred in the Rapid City area.

Keep in mind I was raised by a generation who saw rallying as trouble making and too radical.  For my parents, change was something you worked on silently, a daily occurrence that meant practice, working harder, and sacrifice.  In my humble opinion, those all work in theory for activities such as running a 10K, roping in a rodeo, or getting straight A’s, but I digress.

Change for our people means demanding justice for all the wrongs that need to be made right.  In the same fashion as our ancestors who died fighting to remain in our lands, the Vern Traversie rally happened in the name of what the late great Vine Deloria wrote about, Red Power!

Although the public school system portrays a different picture in American history as far as American Indians during the Civil Rights Movement is concerned, we know from oral history, there was truth then and there continues to be truth in standing up and speaking up against social injustice today.

Recently I watched Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  After watching the movie, I was reminded of genocide, annihilation, and the rape of lands, and noted Hollywood’s portrayal of the few Indians in the film.  I was bothered with the fact that such patriotism of being American could be celebrated in such a grotesque manner at the exploitation and sale of Indigenous lands.  The movie showed what Manifest Destiny “looked” like as it brought more immigrants than our ancestors could have ever imagined and left out the genocide that followed and the attempted annihilation of Indigenous people.  I bring this film up because many people like Western movies.  I, for one, am a big Outlaw Josey Wales fan.  It just so happens he fought for the South and went rogue for the same reasons why most people in history do, resistance.

When thinking about rallying and protesting, resistance is also an important factor.  We have the power to speak up because we will no longer be silent and the “power of the oppressed will overcome the oppressor” when they are no longer silent.  Resistance does not necessarily mean a physical or violent protest, but a resistance to the oppressor’s silencing mechanisms.

Today we have Native people who are fancy and work as doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, and administrators who help keep Indian country front and center “silently.”  Whether one works in some fancy-schmancy office and sits on a cushy leather chair or as a receptionist greeter at a one of largest casinos in the region, I believe we have a significant population of Native people who can help make change.  What we need is more of them standing with us in solidarity to protest the many wrongs.  Change is ultimately at the root cause of why we want something better, especially for our children AND our elders!

Essentially, anything we do as members of our communities and citizens of our nations is for our future children, but also to protect our elders.  They need us to speak up and do more than we have.  While attending the 4th annual Native American Indigenous Association conference, I attended an informative and thought provoking panel on Indigenous anarchy and activism.  As I listened intently to each presenter, I took copious notes during their presentations as each discussed Indigenous knowledge, power, and activism.  I observed witnesses to the rallying and protests for Vern Traversie, the Tar Sands oil mining protest, and the Mayan resurgence, and on the deconstructing of social injustice from an Indigenous scholarly perspective.  The panelists each presented on a form of resurgence and resistance to the oppression we as Indigenous people have experienced.  Frantz Fanon was quoted, a Mayan prophecy was shared, and other Indigenous scholarly works were cited all in the name of resistance.

As Indigenous people, we need to go back into our histories and reclaim what the Red Power Movement was created for, and remind society at large we are still here.  Why didn’t everyone participate?  Why aren’t we all protesting the Tar Sands?  Who is going to speak up for all the other Vern Traversie’s in Indian country?  Or continue fighting the rape and pillage of pristine Indigenous lands?

I understand considering the rallying or protesting risky if you work in an institution.  People have been fired for speaking up.  Yet as Indigenous people we have a responsibility to respond.  We each have been blessed with a talent, and some of us are more fortunate than others.  As a call to action, this is a reminder: your talent needs to be used to help our people- not to become comfortable and cushy, or forget what the root cause of pursuing an advanced degree was about when you first started.  We are to help our people because that’s the right thing to do.

I close with this quote by Jeff Corntassel (Cherokee Nation), “Indigenous intellectualism is accountable to the community.” Even Indigenous scholars are accountable to the people.  We can’t sit in our cushy leather seats and reap benefits of secure pay without a conscience.  I reckon it’s time we stood together with our community.