This past October 9, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day a small group of Northeastern colleagues from the Indigenous community joined together to celebrate and highlight the work of Indigenous scholars that are Northeastern faculty. The Boston campus’s Native and Indigenous Affinity Group  hosted the virtual event in collaboration with colleagues on the Oakland campus. Three panelists presented on their work in three areas:

  • Indigenous Language Persistence. Why, How, and Where the Cherokee and Other Indigenous Languages Continue.
  • Tender Violence in U.S. Schools, And Its Origins in Missionary and Colonial-settler Education.
  • Designing Cultural Connection.

The session began with a greeting and Land Recognition by Northeastern’s Chief Inclusion Officer, Karl Reid, followed by a blessing from the panel’s moderator who is also the Chaplain and Elder-in-Residence at Mills College at Northeastern, Patricia St. Onge (Haudenosaunee Confederacy), and her introduction of the panelists.

Indigenous Language Persistence, and Digital Archives

DecorativeEllen Cushman, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, presented on her work on Digital Archives of Indigenous Language Persistence (DAILP). Cushman is Dean’s Professor of Civic Sustainability and Professor of English, and is based on the Boston campus.

In her talk Cushman noted that the first writing system by any Indigenous nation in the U.S. was created by a Cherokee man named Sequoia who introduced the Cherokees’ eighty-six-character syllabary. She played a video of her conversation with an older Cherokee man John Chewey. As a child, he heard stories told in the Cherokee language. Chewey had never seen the language in writing and in his work on the project, he realized he had forgotten some of the words he heard growing up.  Chewey was the face of the importance of language persistence and its value to continuation of culture.

The DAILP’s work includes accessing manuscripts that are scattered nationwide to read and translate them to document the languages, and to enable the practicing, reading, and speaking the languages contained in the manuscripts.

Readers can learn more about Professor Cushman and the DAILP team here.

Tender Violence in U.S. Schools

Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer, Kanaka Maoli and native Hawaiian, talked about the subject of her new book, Tender Violence in U.S. Schools: Benevolent Whiteness and the Dangers of Heroic White Womanhood, published by Routledge, 2023. Bauer is adjunct professor of Indigenous Studies, and the May Treat Morrison endowed professorship in American studies at Mills College at Northeastern University.

Bauer discussed the prevailing view of teachers as individual heroes, solving their students’ problems, or fixing problem students and thereby teaching, in the U.S. as a heroic act, pointing to books, movies, viral videos that reinforce the idea of one person solving students’ problems, and “by extension” solving larger problems such as “educational and social systems.” Having taught for 8 years in San Francisco public schools prior to completing her doctorate at UC Berkley in 2017, Bauer is personally familiar with the public education system in the U.S.

Bauer’s analysis includes ethnographic data from public schools, and confessional literature, including diaries and letters, written by the teachers’ from the mid-nineteenth century, saying, at the time in the mid nineteenth century, women’s journals, missionary journals were as widely read as today’s audiences read social media, so they were very much used to construct ‘What is Truth’.

Bauer reminds the audience that, the missionaries’ first and foremost motivation was to demonstrate worthiness to God, then to save others, and education was further down on the list of intentions.

Despite the history of violence and oppression toward Black and Indigenous people, they have steadfastly valued education for it’s potential to emancipate. These communities, Bauer said, continue to work within and outside of “settler state” systems to carry themselves and their communities toward freedom.

Designing Cultural Connection

Sebastian Ellington Flying Eagle Ebarb, a member of the Choctaw Apache tribe of Ebarb presented on Designing Cultural Connection. A teaching professor of Design at Northeastern, Ebarb is based on the Boston campus.

Ebarb redesigned the Town of Natick’s Seal, considered offensive. The original seal showed Puritan missionary John Eliot, seemingly with a  Bible in hand in a preaching stance addressing Native Americans sitting on the ground, cross-legged. Ebarb’s redesign of the Town seal, after a vote and approval by the Town, is officially recognized, has been introduced for use townwide as of September 1.

Ebarb talked about the dispersion of his tribe’s ancestral homelands in Louisiana, on which approximately half of the tribe reside. The reasons for the emigration are varied, some involving economic opportunity, some due to government action such as when the land was stolen then flooded to make room for a reservoir In Texas and Louisiana. The subsequent displacement and loss of cultural touchpoints of the Native people necessitates finding ways to come together to share information. One of the ways they do this is through digital platforms, including on Facebook and Instagram. Ebarb’s community is working on creating a digital library as a resource for their community members.

They are building an archive, collecting stories of their heritage, and seeking ways to communicate effectively in a way that ensures access to the information for the community so that they can learn about their heritage from this resource. In addition, the community is building a culture camp for the younger generation as well as creating tools, a coloring book with text of the language for example, to enable children to learn the language of their ancestors. Ebarb says the language that was mostly spoken within his tribe “has gone dormant for the tribe” however, Apache and Choctaw languages are very similar and valuable for language continuation.

He is also working with Ginew, the only jeans company operated by Native Americans  in the U.S. He and his partner who is based on the West Coast, help with designs and with providing visibility for the company. Creating designs for Indigenous and Non-native people Ginew, Ebarb says works to bring representation to their Indigenous culture.

A recording of the panel can be viewed here. Native and Indigenous Affinity Group mailing list, subscribe via this link.