Mills’ first ever keynote speaker to join the college in celebrating Native American Heritage month left a generally favorable impression on her audience last Tuesday evening.
At a quarter after seven, the last of about 20 students straggled into the student union to listen to Renya Ramirez, a Native American female activist and professor of Native American studies the UC Santa Cruz, lecture on the issue of sexual violence against women in Native American tribes.
Melinda Micco, associate professor of ethnic studies and an organizer of the month’s events said that she chose Ramirez because “there is a need to end sexual violence against women [and] Renya is talking about how to organize against it.”
In her 30-minute address, Ramirez declared that while the male dominated Native American tribal councils are openly struggling to establlish cultural sovereignty, sexual violence against women in these tribes is rampant and generally being ignored.
“Tribes try to be sovereign by living by there own laws, but it is very male dominated and women are silenced and acted violently against sexually… sexual violence against women is condoned and perpetuated.”
Ramirez said that because men hold the power, the violence against women continues. In fact, she said that women who have attempted to get justice for sexual assault have been humiliated within the tribal community, and accused of “airing [the tribe’s] dirty laundry.”
Ramirez explained that the brutal history of sexual violence dates back to European settlers, who portrayed Native American women as sexually “open” and raped them as a symbol of imperialism. She added that the molestation of almost all of the 90 percent of Native American children who were sent to boarding school between 1860 and 1960, contributes to the condition that the tribes have found themselves in today.
She closed by opening the floor for questions, which for some students, who were disappointed by her lecture-style speech was an act of redemption because they were given the opportunity to give more thought to the issues discussed in her speech.
“At first I thought, wait, is this an essay or a speech. But I liked the question and answer part because I am interested in the parallels between different women of color feminist movements,” said sophomore Veronica Williams.
Although some students were first displeased with Ramirez’s dry delivery style, they were able to weigh the importance of the subject matter over this discontent, and overall found the information very interesting and were glad they attended the speech.
Alexis Kargl, a senior, acknowledged the great importance of the issues being discussed, and was sorry more students had not attended. “I was really disappointed to see such a low turnout at our women’s college for a talk specifically on indigenous women’s issues,” said senior Alexis Kargl.
Despite the lack of student turnout, Renya said the most important message she hoped to leave with the Mills students who were not able to attend her speech is that,” political activism is essential, and it is important for women to get involved in activism because so many gender issues are getting swept under the rug.”