Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosts the ‘Witness of Injustice’ program

Native American advocates spread awareness about colonization, genocide Friday


Native American advocates taught UB community members about the lasting effects of genocide during a “Native American Conversation” event Friday.

Thirty-two students and faculty members attended the four-hour “Witness of Injustice” seminar, hosted by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Native American Community Services, at Goodyear Hall, where indigenous scholars and volunteers discussed the mass murder and removal of Native Americans during colonization. The seminar featured indigenous activists who discussed the lasting effects of displacement and genocide throughout history, and the importance of creating relationships of “peace and friendship” with Native Americans for the future.

The event also included representatives from the Nekanęhsakt: Friend’s of Ekwehewe Coalition, an organization of non-indegionous allies, and the Indigenous Women’s Initiative, an organization for empowering indigenous women.

Pete Hill, a member of the Cayuga Nation and the NACS “All Our Relations” Project Director, helped lead the event.

“So many of the things we talk about here might not be widely recognized,” Hill said. “[Mother Earth] holds up our feet at the same level, so nobody walks [higher or lower]. It teaches us that nobody is any better or worse than anybody else.”

At the interactive event, guests were assigned to represent the various Native American tribes during colonization.

As the hosts read through the history of Native American mistreatment, beginning with colonization, audience members sat down when their respective tribe was considered “extinct.”

Only three people out of the 32 remained standing at the end of the activity.

Members of NACS read from Christopher Columbus’ and other historical figures’ journal entries, recounting the violent history of colonization. 

The hosts also discussed the various legal doctrines which legalized the mistreatment of Native Americans and explained how the extinction of North American Buffalo, the Doctrine of Discovery and the Indian Removal Act led to the state of reservations today. 

Aleigha Carpenter, a member of the Mohawk Tribe and a UB senior economics major, said she attended the seminar to learn more about her ancestral history.

“I believe it is ignorant to ignore the United States’ traumatic history,” Carpenter said. “Going to school and living on Native American land, while also discrediting that history, is such a hurtful and disrespectful thing to do.”

In August 2018, the Office of Inclusive Excellence said it wanted to begin spreading awareness of Native American culture through different events. This followed a 2017 article in which Native American students and faculty said they felt underrepresented on campus, despite UB being built on Seneca Nation land.

The hosts from NACS and the Indigenous Women’s Initiatives ended the discussion by speaking about the lasting effects of Native Americans’ displacement and genocide. Indigenous women within tribal communities are ten times more likely to be murdered compared to non-natives, and 84% of native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, according to the National Institute of Justice.

NACS also discussed how harmful Native American stereotypes are, and the ways trauma can be passed down through generations.

 “For [children], the skies aren’t the limit. Their eyes are the limit. Sometimes the coping mechanisms from disparities become normalized,” Hill said. “Some of our people turned to [eating] and drinking and violence. That isn’t who we are.” 

 Hill, who has worked with NACS for over 25 years, gave the closing Haudenosaunee tradition of giving thanksand ended the event with a message of healing and forgiveness. 

 “We didn’t hold this event just to focus on the trauma. We need to move on from the trauma to begin healing, and also learn from the past,” Hill said. “We have to stand with our people, but also all people.”

Samantha Vargas is the senior features editor and can be reached at Samantha.Vargas@UBSpectrum.com and on Twitter at @SamMarieVargas.

SAMANTHA VARGAS


Samantha Vargas is an English/ film studies double major with a minor in media study. She spends her free time finding shows around buffalo and hanging out with her cat.