Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Blue graffiti reading "stolen land" was visible on Ho Plaza on Sept. 28, 2021.

November 17, 2021

Migration Roundtable Discusses Indigenous Displacement, Racism

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During a Tuesday night panel discussion entitled “Indigenous Movement: Dispossession, Return, and Imposed Borders,” faculty across disciplines discussed Indigenous movement through art, history and archeology presentations. 

The roundtable, moderated by Prof. Jeffrey Palmer, performing and media arts, hosted a conversation about the dispossession and racism that the Haudenosaunee people, a confederacy of six northeastern nations, have faced. The panel also discussed the forced imposition of U.S. and Canadian borders throughout Native land. The event was sponsored by the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program, the Migrations initiative and the Rural Humanities Initiative

The discussion began with a presentation on the inaccuracies in archeological interpretations detailing the recent past of Indigenous migrations by Prof. Kurt Jordan, anthropology and head of the American Indian and Indigenous studies program.

“Archaeologists assumed that there was just a lot more devotion to tradition and not much innovation, invention and diffusion of ideas,” Jordan said. “These assumptions are ridiculously problematic, and I think you don’t have to scratch deeply to find that they’re quite racist.” 

Jordan also discussed the presence of historical roadside markers throughout Ithaca and the Cayuga Lake region. He noted that they display outdated information on Indigenous history that perpetuates these assumptions. 

Prof. Jolene Rickard, history of art and visual studies followed with a presentation on the power of visual media to express the complexities of both Indigenous resistance and colonial violence.

Rickard described her art, including one piece entitled ,… the sky is darkening …, 2019, and raised questions on the definition of Indigenous resistance: “How can you learn to see the unmarked and invisible spaces of colonial violence and dispossession within the Americas?” she asked. 

She also discussed the impact of visual imagery on historical documentation. She said decolonial protest coverage has undermined the important roles of Indigenous women by using images featuring only male activists. 

Rickard stated that the cycle of migration and dispossession represents ongoing settler colonialism. The land base of the Haudenosaunee includes areas of New York State, Ontario and Quebec — thus, the international border between Canada and the United States interferes with movement of the Haudenosaunee within their own community.

She believes that artists can utilize photography, visual art and other forms to assert Indigenous rights publicly.

“It makes visible our presence on a landscape intended to erase our presence,” Rickard said. “If America can begin to recognize its responsibility to its colonial actions against Indigenous peoples, I think that would begin to help change a dynamic globally.”

Prof. Jon Parmenter, history, followed with a presentation on border conflicts involving Native land, giving examples of several violations of Native and Aboriginal human rights at the Canada-U.S. border.

Parmenter stated that North American countries should modify the state legal apparatus that regulates border crossings to account for the consequences of colonial intervention in Indigenous communities. 

Parmenter noted that many Indigenous and Aborginal communities are separated by a federal border that hinders their life quality. 

“For non-Indigenous people, border crossing tends to be kind of an infrequent thing,” Parmenter said. “They don’t have to leave their home country to travel to another part of their home community for food, work, social events and the grocery store. Their grocery purchases are not subject to inspection by border agents.” 

At the end of the panel, Palmer and Rickard both emphasized the power of intergenerational storytelling. 

Palmer, who recently released his first feature length film N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear, ended the discussion by crediting Native art and film for connecting generations and expressing Indigenous experiences.. 

“In terms of Indigenous youth, this is a really important time for untold stories,” Palmer said. “Now, we’re in control of these stories.”

Correction, Nov. 16, 6:10 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify Rickard’s quotes regarding dispossession and international borders, and Jordan’s quote regarding archeologists’ assumptions.