Activist speaks on history of Indigenous people
One of the many events in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day was Chadra Pittman’s presentation.
In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, Brandeis hosted public speaker and activist Chadra Pittman, who gave a talk titled ‘I, Too, Am America’: Stolen Land, Stolen People and the Forced Migrations of the Native & the African.' The talk focused on the history of the oppression, displacement and dehumanization of the Indigenous and African people in America’s past, discussing each of them on their own as well as drawing connections between the two histories.
Pittman is the founder and executive director of The Sankofa Projects, where, according to her bio, “she works to preserve the legacy, history, and culture of the African diaspora,” as well as the activist organization 4 E.V.E.R. (End Violence End Rape), “which seeks to end sexual violence and eradicate rape culture while advocating for deaf and LGBTQIA+ inclusion.”
Pittman began delivering speeches to the public about the history of Indigenous African people in America in 1991. Through her lectures and writing, she hopes to give a voice to neglected narratives. Her goal is to ensure that those who were wronged and can no longer speak up for themselves find their rightful place within the historical record.
The presentation touched on events from the 16th century to the present, covering the history of the treatment of Indigenous and African people in America. Pittman drew many parallels between the histories of the two groups, as well as comparing their cultures. She discussed events like the weaponization of smallpox, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Indian Removal Act and Andrew Jackson’s policies towards Indigenous Americans. Pittman also mentioned a few recent events that indicate America’s goal of reform and repair.
Throughout the presentation, Pittman incorporated music, poetry and the words of other thinkers and activists. The title of the pre-sentation itself was borrowed from Langston Hughes’s poem, “I, Too,” which Pittman read aloud. She also started and ended the presentation with music by Indigenous activists and musicians that were about both the stealing and the reclamation of their land in America. She included quotes from James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Nelson Mandela and Simon Bolivar.
At the end of the event, Pittman shifted from discussing the past to the present, focusing on how we as individuals can work to amend the country’s past and work toward eradicating racism and oppression. She placed an emphasis on educating children, as often these aspects of American history are glossed over in schools. Pittman recommended taking responsibility when we notice gaps in children’s education by telling stories, reading books or listening to music.
Tara Whitehurst, program administrator at the Intercultural Center, started the presentation with a statement regarding Indigenous Peoples Day: “The very existence of our University and Waltham has been facilitated by the dispossession, enslavement, forced removal and dispersal of native communities by settler colonialism. We acknowledge that the allotment of native land and termination of native serenity emerged in New England during the Massachusetts Enfranchisement and Allotment Act of 1866, and we recognize that this land acknowledgement is the one aspect of our ongoing effort to take action to support Indigenous communities.”
Brandeis held two days of programming on Oct. 11 and 12. There was a total of seven different events, with multiple guest speakers as well as a number of Indigenous cultural performances. Brandeis hosted its first teaching in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day in 2016, this year being the sixth annual year of programming to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
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