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Mace & Crown | August 19, 2017

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‘Chit. Chat. Chew.’: Discussing Struggle and Survival of Indigenous Tribes

Jade Dixon | Contributor Writer

History never ceases to repeat itself. This seems especially true when it comes to the protests that have come about to protect the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

The Office of Intercultural Relations hosted “Chit. Chat. Chew.,” an event series to encourage conversation on this topic on April 6 in the Intercultural Center of the Webb Center.

Associate Professor of American Literature Drew Lopenzina spoke about his involvement with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and his experience with the indigenous tribe in the area. He also spoke on the story of ordained Methodist minister and writer William Apess (1798-1839), a religious and political activist of mixed-race descent who was part of the Pequot tribe.

“Pequot endured colonial abuse. The white community attempted to exterminate indigenous populations, in addition to enslaving and abusing women and children,” Lopenzina said.

Lopenzina explained the turmoil that the white community cast upon Apess and the Native American communities, as well as what was done in order to survive and protect their land. He was considered one of the most well-known advocates at the time, encouraging nonviolent protest to defend his land.

“I spoke to indigenous persons to seek out information about different indigenous communities and unveil the truth about what they withstood during this time of history,” Lopenzina said when describing the trauma Apess and his family suffered.

In Lopenzina’s novel, “Through an Indian’s Looking-Glass: A Cultural Biography of William Apess,” he uncovers the dark secrets behind Apess’s family abuse and shares research about his life. Short passages from the first chapter of his novel were read to give the audience a chance to listen and visualize what Apess bore and how it influenced his actions.

He further explained that the natives were a resilient group of people who refused to use violence as a solution, but instead used peaceful resistance to fight the power structure the white community put upon them.

“Apess suggested to make this known to the white communities and publish the resolutions of the native people in “The Liberator,” an anti-slavery newspaper,” Lopenzina said.

Lopenzina emphasized how Native American actions were falsely publicized in newspapers. The media used terms such as “Indian War,” implying that the indigenous people wanted to start a violent resistance.

“What influenced Apess’s way of thinking?” graduate student Nevin Mapp asked.

“It is hard to say, but I think since he was living in these communities and saw what they experienced it encouraged him to help. He had his own natural ability and charisma to carry out what no other native could,” Lopenzina answered.

Towards the end of the presentation, Lopenzina spoke on his time as a “water protector” for the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in Standing Rock at the Chechi Sakowin Camp in November 2016.

“They used the term ‘water protector,’ not ‘protester,’ because we were there to protect the natural resources,” Lopenzina said.

He displayed many photos of his time in North Dakota, showing the camping sites, protests held in town and brutal police treatment towards protesters.

“It’s amazing because it is the same colonial rhetoric referring to how they are treating the natives on their land,” Lopenzina said. He stressed how similar indigenous people are treated today compared to how they were treated in the past.