Powwow Fails to Honor Native American Students

By
May 6, 2004

Dear Editor,

I cannot help but write this letter to you as I find myself, for
the very first time at Mills College, profoundly concerned. Over
500 years ago, in 1492, the continents named the “Americas” were
conquered and upon the conquest, the “New World” consisted of -it
is postulated but no real numbers are positively concrete-
approximately 12 million indigenous people. Historical literature
claimed a mere 1 million people, yet a claim so befitting the time:
what better way to justify the decimation of so many people when
the “Noble Savage” was perceived but of few, inviting the vision of
open spaces and vast, virgin lands? By 1920, North America -to be
precise, the United States- was reduced to 250,000 Native
Americans. Many Native people died because of European diseases;
however, it cannot be dismissed nor denied that the decline of many
tribes was due to the sanguinary battlefield brought upon them by
the conquerors and settlers from the Eastern seas.

My dear editor, what I write is not to summarize a brief history
of the conquest in a short paragraph but to voice a deep concern
that even here at Mills College, the conquest continues. Native
American people have fought to be heard, to have a voice, to be
respected, to be honored and to be marginalized no longer. The
Mills College Pow Wow on April 17th, 2004 -though it invites not
only Native American people but anyone who wishes to attend – did
not even honor Native American students or Native American faculty
on campus. Perhaps this would not seem as a threat or a sign of
disrespect to many, but it unequivocally is. As educated people and
as a campus committed to becoming aware of our actions, our choices
and our surroundings, I cannot but feel compelled to bring this
issue to the fore. By honoring not even Native American students on
our own campus, silencing them as they have consistently been
silenced for over 500 years is a grave mistake that is unacceptable
and is an unconscious continuation of history. Would not one
question an event that was, say, a Jewish gathering on campus but
that did not properly invite nor mention its Jewish student body?
Would one have a celebration of Hawaiian people without not first
inviting Hawaiian students to participate – or at least honoring
Hawaiian students at an event as being part of the life at Mills?
Would one not honor its Chicano or Latin American students if the
school organized a Pow Wow for people outside of the school’s
community? What would happen – which I somehow doubt would ever
occur – if they were silenced, not even recognized, not even
honored, not even celebrated? What does it mean, then, to not honor
Native American people on our campus? Does it continue the infamous
legacy to make Native Americans invisible, to make them part of the
“vanishing race”? Is this the justice to be found on our campus or
is it just a small picture of what it is to live in the United
States? Is this the name we are writing for ourselves here at Mills
College? Is this a campus we can walk proudly in, thinking we are
completely aware of injustice? Is this something we are willing to
walk away from without saying a word?

Sincerely,

Masumi Patzel


Powwow Fails to Honor Native American Students was published on May 6, 2004 in Letters to the Editor

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