On Indigenous Peoples Day, & Columbus: An Open Letter in Solidarity with Love for Natives at Brown

First, I want to extend love and support to my Native Americans at Brown family. The existence of such a space is an act against the erasure and delegitimization of our people. NAB gave me a space- but more importantly people that validated my humanity while recognizing the differences that I bring. It reminded me that denying a part of myself-my indigeneity, my native roots in Puerto Rico (land of Taino people) and The United States was exactly what colonizers wanted. The things I learned from these individuals- Native Students at Brown during at my four years here were immeasurable and they showed me that claiming my identity, learning about other indigenous cultures and being a part of the Ivy League Native Council was an act of resistance.

Currently, I am in my hometown of New York City sending love and strength to the wonderful people that I’ve met at NAB. I wish I could be in Providence for their two part event to petition Brown University to change the name of Fall Weekend/Columbus Day  to “Indigenous People’s Day which is happening right now.

This is an open letter and collection of relevant voices.

It was brought to my attention the existence of several articles by M. DZHALI MAIER that made racist and factually inaccurate claims such as:

“Wealth, poverty, privilege, marginalization and oppression are very much a part of us and are inextricably written into our biology and history, at least for some of us.” in “The white privilege of cows” published  by the Brown Daily Herald and

in the “Columbian Exchange Day” article:

“Rather, keep Columbus Day. Celebrate the Columbian Exchange, not the man. It is the right of every person to interpret a holiday any way she chooses, but sitting down in the Sharpe Refectory and plotting an “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” demonstration over an egg and bacon breakfast is hypocrisy at its finest.”

The #Receipts (Print and Online clippings of the Full Articles + more have been made available thanks to a folder created by Victor Bramble- thank you)

As NAB has expressed in their article:

“This is a demand for the celebration and recognition of collective resilience instead of brutal genocide. You tried to get rid of us before, but today, when you see us on the Main Green, we are there to tell you that you’ve failed.We’re still here, and we always will be. We’re not changing for you anymore. Indigenous People’s Day is a call for change: From now on, you will need to change for us.

I personally, have heard the argument that ‘Columbus’ deeds were in the past,’ or that ‘they [Indigenous and other People of Color] shouldn’t place their anger/hate in one person’ [Columbus] but I disagree with these sentiments. I am placing my love for myself, my family and fellow People of Color above the “fruits” of the “Columbian Exchange.” I place my love above hate speech and ideologies that are not only damaging but perpetuate Anti-Native and Anti-Blackness. I will not be complacent amidst people and institutions that attempt to tell Native, Black, Latino, Asian, Arab, Multi-racial people how to feel especially in relation to our lived experiences with racism and trauma- they have no right, and our experiences with racism and trauma, they are not up for debate. As Native Americans at Brown has stated:

“It is time to stop entertaining ideas that have proven to enact only violence on communities of color. It is time to stop celebrating the arrival of a rapist, slave trader and mass murderer.”

I was pleased to find that leaders of a multitude of Black organizations (that I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of while I was at Brown) released a joint statement to the Brown Daily Herald in solidarity with Native Americans at Brown. They stated:

“The Editorial Board, if it can claim integrity in any sense of the word, has the utmost obligation

to ensure that the pieces it publishes are both factually accurate and not racist, classist,

cissexist, heterosexist, sexist, or ableist. Dismissing and justifying the blatantly prejudiced

nature of these articles through an “internal error” excuse is inadequate and intolerable.”

“Trying to erase the evidence of one’s wrongdoings only highlights the BDH’s desire not to be held accountable for or associated with its actions…We particularly want to underscore the impact that the most recent article, “Columbian Exchange Day,” has had on the Native and Indigenous community at Brown. This is especially important considering that this University itself is a product of the American settler­ colonial project and the violent genocide of Native people, namely the Wampanoag and Narragansett Nations upon whose land Brown University currently stands.”

The full statement is available here. Other student groups, individuals and organizations and friends have outpoured their support and stand in solidarity with Native Americans at Brown, and communities of color at Brown in general.

A Statement from a Collective of AAPI Students stated:

“We denounce The Herald for their utter senselessness and negligence in the editorial process. We condemn The Herald for their lack of accountability, responsibility, and any substantial reparations following the publishings. We also acknowledge that no apology can sufficiently rectify the violence enacted by The Herald in silencing, speaking for, and erasing Native and Indigenous students.”

ON AAPI COMPLICITY

“On Facebook, the writer of the columns argued that she, as “an East Asian girl,” could not be a “white supremacist.” As people of color, we want to make it explicitly clear that we too can be invested in white supremacy, especially when it provides us with privileges at the expense of other people of color. Asian American students are direct participants in settler colonialism. In order for Asian Americans to exist as (im)migrants and the children of (im)migrants with access to this institution, Native people were violently removed from lands that enslaved Black people were then forced to build upon. These violences and patterns cannot be relegated to the past, as their legacies continue to affect Native and Black people.”

A Statement from a collective of various Latinx and Latin-American student organizations, student leaders, and students remarked:

We, a collective of various Latinx and Latin-American student organizations, student leaders, and students, write this statement in solidarity with Native American and Indigenous students at Brown, as well as with the previous statements issued by Black, and Asian/Asian American and Pacific Islander student leaders. We write this letter out of concern for and disgust of the decisions made by the Brown Daily Herald to publish two consecutively racist articles by the same author titled, “The white privilege of cows”, and “Columbian Exchange Day”, released by the campus publication on October 5th, and October 6th, 2015, respectively.

“Since 1492, the genocide against indigenous folks have not decreased. During Spanish conquest, it was estimated that eight million indigenous people died. The blood of our indigenous ancestors remains stained on Latin American ground. It is due to such a large-scale of violence and terror that some of us cannot truly trace which indigenous blood runs through our veins. Some of us were denied the virtue of learning our indigenous culture, blood and language. In spite of this, plenty of Latinxs and Latin-Americans are members of vibrant indigenous communities despite aforementioned effects of colonization. It is because of this and more that we stand in solidarity with those who remain in the struggle to keep their indigenous and Native voices heard, voices that have too often been silenced, ignored, and deemed unworthy. It is not only just, but loyal to stand in solidarity with Native Americans here at Brown.”

There are also several articles in Bluestockings and Visions:

Bluestockings’ Editors Statement

“This marks yet another instance in which we are reminded of the ever-present bigotry on Brown’s campus, and of the investment that wealthy and predominantly white structures have in uplifting these vitriolic ideas. The burden once again falls on students who hold marginalized identities to assert and legitimize their presence—and anger. The daily lives of Brown students from marginalized communities are continually assaulted by the ignorance and racism of their peers, as they are silenced by publications such as The Brown Daily Herald.”

#BrownDailyHaters by Cherise Morris and Rheem Brooks

“I just want to speak to the people I care about. To my Black and brown peers: take care of yourselves. Keep yourselves and each other safe. Yes, collect those receipts, but above all else don’t let these motherfuckers get you down. Drake said it best: “Motherfuckers never loved us.”

White Cows: Our Most Privileged, Our Most Oppressed. Also Columbusby Fred Mezidor

“Her circumstance cannot wash her hands of the causal effect of her language, behavior, and lack of education. She must bear witness to the ways in which her thinly veiled proposals of eugenics and assertion that race is biological have historically been promoted to produce immoral yet “logical”, reactionary, and violent consequences.”

Take My Yucca and Question My Legitimacy: A note on inclusion and exclusion by Alyxandra Todich’ii’ni Lawson

“You silence me. You make me invisible. I question myself, my identity, my performance.

“Cry you a river?”

I hear it scrawl across my heart, forever imprinted—overlaying the words of wisdom I received from my cheí. What are my truths? What are your truths? Why must I defend myself on every front, trying to defend the one group on campus I am supposed to find solidarity with?”

Indigenous People’s Day by Ronald Charles Scott Jr. in VISIONS

“Indigenous People’s Day is about solidarity and the resilience of my people, my ancestors, and all of those who have ever been oppressed. Indigenous People’s Day is the acknowledgement of our history, our heritage, and our contribution to society. It is about breaking our chains of isolation and communication to attain an international community. In my culture, we have a traditional teaching, K’ézhnidzen, which means in English – acknowledging and respecting the kinship and clanship.  Brown University prides itself on being a community, and I will admit that it is one of the reasons I decided to attend Brown University. When I arrived to A Day On College Hill (ADOCH), I found a community that I could invest myself into. A community that I know would stand in solidarity with me when I am in need of it.”

As Ronald expressed:

“Acknowledging and changing Fall Weekend/Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s day is an occasion to strengthen our Brown community, the process of unity, and the recognition and celebration of resistance and resilience.”

Solidarity and allyship looks like people fighting for their peers, -that’s ever true. It is participating in demonstrations and actively listening and acting in response to the needs of Native students and all communities of color. It is having hope and working towards the University and similar institutions changing for us.

In Solidarity, with love

Always

Jo’Nella Queen Cabrera Ellerbe ’15

NAB Stole
This image depicts Professor Elizabeth Hoover presenting me with my NAB stole at the First official presenting of such stoles at the Unity Ceremony, also featured Nate Harris ’15, photo by Stephen Crocker
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