Native erasure highlighted at town hall

By Janet Guereca

The last racial equity and social justice town hall for the semester focused on creating awareness of the unique challenges faced by Native communities. 

CBS2/KCAL9 reporter and anchor Lesley Marin moderated the discussion. Kyle Whyte, Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan and Member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and ELAC student John Ray were a part of the panel. 

The panel focused on what can be done as a community to honor, respect and take action to help the Native American communities. 

One of the significant issues that have negatively impacted Native American communities is the erasure of Native history. 

“Just because we don’t have the same exposure as other communities doesn’t mean that we’re not here. Because of the past, and due to the traumas being put on reservations and boarding schools and the loss of the culture, we’re not really seen as here anymore,” Ray said.

The educational system is a part of the erasure of Native history. 

“The education that we’re exposed to sends us on pathways, and if we can change that even just a little bit, and indigenous history is a huge part of that change, we can go really far as a society,” Whyte said.

Whyte said, the United States education system doesn’t teach that there are other forms of government. 

He said there is no emotional connection to the land and how human actions damage the environment. The lack of connection affects adults because it blocks their creativity in finding solutions to climate change.

Whyte’s research has focused on climate change and protecting Native American communities. They are among the most severely impacted by climate change. 

The instability in the climate is putting communities through harm that their ancestors were not accustomed to.

Whyte’s research showed that tribes are experiencing extreme weather events, new insects, and new environmental conditions.These events bring disease and affect food quality. Coastal communities are experiencing erosion and have had to move due to flooding.

“The environmental racism Native people faced began when the government dispossessed them of land to make way for industry and profit. The government relocated Native American communities closer to polluted areas. 

“Education systems imposed by the US government stripped them of generations of knowledge they had of the environment. That knowledge included all the solutions on how to live with the land,” Whyte said. 

Whyte said to serve Native communities, it is crucial to visit welcoming tribes and have people willing to learn from these tribes. 

He said investing in what Native people are doing, and boosting awareness of their people is important.

“The thing that we can do most to honor indigenous people is to take responsibility. For many tribes, what we want to see people doing in our homelands is people taking responsibility, fighting for justice and over time creating more opportunities for Native people to lead. That’s a slow process because when people have been oppressed for generations, you’re not going to change that very quickly. It’s going to take time,” Whyte said. 

Ray said colleges can look into creating clubs that focus on the Indigenous activities on campus. 

 “The school can have history classes based exclusively on indigenous properties, indigenous people. I believe that we need to get our voice out there. We need to have people know that we’re still here, we’re alive, we are not extinct,” Ray said.

ELAC President Alberto J. Román agreed that the college needs more clubs and opportunities for bonding and collaboration. Román said, this is something that ELAC can work toward and put an action plan around.

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