June 5, 2020
On June 5, President Dianne Harrison sponsored an online event: "Campus Conversation on the Killing of George Floyd: Systemic Racism, Continued Inequality and Social Justice." Included in that event were expressions of solidarity from academic programs at CSUN. The following is the statement from the American Indian Studies Program, written by Director Scott Andrews (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma):
African Americans and American Indians have formed alliances since African slaves were first brought to the Americas. These alliances were formed and have continued because of shared beliefs, values, and love. Black Lives Matter has special resonance in Native communities not only because some Black victims of police violence are the relatives of Native people, but also because Native communities know first-hand the pain and grief of being targets of police violence. Natives and African Americans are the two groups most likely to die during interactions with law enforcement.
On Tuesday, the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were chanted by marchers as we walked the perimeter of CSUN's campus. Their names join the thousands of victims of government-sanctioned violence in the past 120 years. (Never mind the many genocidal wars waged against Native nations and the history of slavery and lynching of African Americans before that.) The American Indian Studies Program and the American Indian Student Association stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
Demonstrations protesting the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor evoked militarized police responses across the United States. These responses are very familiar to Native communities. As I watched gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and armored personnel carriers deployed against unarmed civilians, I was reminded of the similar events at Standing Rock in 2016-2017, when Native people asserted their treaty rights in blocking construction of an oil pipeline on unceded Sioux Nation land. Many people saw those events and were outraged, but most people were unaffected since that battle was being fought far away, in the middle of the Great Plains. But now we have seen the same violence in the middle of major cities in the United States. The consequences of granting to government the power to physically harm its citizens are in full view of every American.
As a discipline, American Indian Studies considers the power relationships among various levels of government: tribal, local, state, and federal. It studies the nature of nationhood and of citizenship; it studies the structures of power between a government and its citizens. And because of the colonizing history of the United States, American Indian Studies is very familiar with the use of violence by a government against its citizens. Before the end of the Indian Wars in the late 1800s, Native people in the United States were literally "enemy combatants." However, after that, when Native people were supposedly citizens of the United States, they found themselves still treated like enemies and still subjected to violence and abuses of government power. The militarized police responses to Black Lives Matter demonstrations should make all Americans rethink the power of violence that has been granted to their government. We should not tolerate our government treating its citizens as enemies. We support Black Lives Matter. We are thankful for its leadership, hard work, and bravery.