JMU’s Diversity Education Empowerment Program (DEEP) Impact hosted its final event of the semester, “Dialogue on Indigenous People in the U.S,” April 14. The event featured guest speaker Jordan Daniel, an activist for Indigenous people, was hosted by Rebeca Barge, associate director for the Center for Multicultural Student Services and was moderated by DEEP Impact’s student staff.
The student staff included senior diversity educators, psychology major Tashana Jackson, communication studies major Chrissy Donald, integrated science and technology major Joshua Jones, political science major Mikayla Dukes, education major Samantha Hinton, health sciences major Jasmine Robinson, communication studies major Zenobia Lee-Nelson and education graduate student Cierra Ballinger.
Jackson began the presentation by discussing the acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples’ land — specifically, JMU’s acknowledgement of the land that its campus lies on.
“A land acknowledgement is a form of recognition — a sign of respect — for the first peoples of the land and their connection to it,” Jackson said. “It is important because we want to recognize that the land we currently reside in is stolen, and we have been given the privilege to occupy this space.”
Robinson continued by talking about the tribes that formerly resided in the Shenandoah Valley, which included the Piedmont Siouans, Catawbas, Shawnee, Delaware, Cherokees, Susquehannocks and the Iroquois.
Jackson followed with the history of Native Americans and said they truly were “the first Americans.” Jackson went into detail on how Indigenous people were the reason the U.S. got started in the first place because they taught the English settlers the ways of the land.
Oppression is something Native Americans are still dealing with in the country, Lee-Nelson said. She discussed the struggles faced by Native Americans in the U.S, and listed the five phases of oppression as “violence, cultural imperialism, exploitation, marginalization and powerlessness.
Lee-Nelson went on to discuss the statistics of violence against Native Americans which represent the visible form of oppression, including sexual violence and hate crimes.
“American Indians and Alaskan Natives are 2.5 times more likely to experience violent crimes and at least two more times likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes compared to all other races,” Lee-Nelson said. “Homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indians and Alaskan Native women between the ages of 10 and 24.”
Before introducing Daniel as the guest speaker, Robinson discussed several public figures who are activists that are part of the Indigenous Peoples community. Notable names are Jason Momoa, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Depp and Megan Fox.
Jackson introduced Daniel by reading her biography. Daniel was raised in South Dakota and is a descendent of the Lakota tribe. She moved to D.C. in eighth grade, where she began to advocate for her people. She ran track at the Division I level in college with New Balance Boston and New Balance Pacers and formed Team 1ndigenous with New Balance. She’s currently a professional runner with Altra Running Team Elite, RabbitPRO runner and Ultimate Direction Ambassador.
According to Daniel’s website she’s “representing Indigenous athletes and relatives” and “the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community in these spaces.”
Daniel is the founder of the company Rising Hearts, which is an Indigenous-led grassroots group devoted to elevating Indigenous voices and promoting intersectional collaborative efforts across all movements with the goals of racial, social, climate and economic justice.
Daniel’s presentation was set up in a question/answer style where anyone attending was able to ask Daniel questions to discuss with the group. Daniel soon went into a discussion about Thanksgiving.
“It’s such irony that on that day of Thanksgiving, that we’re all coming together at our tables and enjoying family and having these discussions, when the very foundation of this holiday goes into those Indigenous peoples that welcomed the pilgrims that cooked for them, that taught them to survive,” Daniel said. “Those peoples’ rights and their recognition and their status and their sovereignty are being pulled away from them, and I think that’s something people need to recognize.”
Daniel also discussed her campaign with Rising Hearts to get the name of the “Washington Redskins” football team changed. She said in 2017, the company did a fake press release of the football team changing their name to the “Red Hawks.” The name wasn’t actually changed until July of 2020 to “The Washington Football Team.” Daniel said one of the top names being considered when the football team did change its name was the “Red Hawks.” However, she said Rising Hearts was given no credit for this name idea.
“We dominated the internet and the media for one whole day because we pretended that the Washington Football Team actually changed their name,” Daniel said. “We wanted to show the world what it would look like for one day if they changed four letters — that it's just that simple to do to change a name.”
Jackson asked Daniel about her opinion on the violence against Indigenous individuals and more specifically, women.
“I would say it's predominantly invisible,” Daniel said. “I would say especially the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit and our relatives is a silent epidemic and international crisis.”
Daniel said many missing and murdered Indigenous people are never put into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system. Therefore, these statistics are, at times, invisible. When someone reports an Indigenous person as missing, Daniel said, police often dismiss the case and give stereotyped excuses and claim that they’ll return. Daniel said many people have stopped selecting the Indigenous box when filling out a missing person form so that the person in question automatically falls into the caucasian category.
Daniel discussed ways for students to become more involved in this fight and what everyone can do to help. She explained that the most important thing anyone can do is to educate themselves first and become aware of an organization in their area that’s helping this cause.
Toward the end of the event, a PowerPoint slide was shown that included resources for anyone looking to get involved. These resources included Daniel’s website, the Rising Hearts website, the Biographical Dictionary of Indians in the Americas, the National Park Services website and JMU’s Native American Student Union’s Instagram account.
Jackson ended the discussion with a question about the narrative of working together and how many different groups turn against each other and make their different injustices a competition instead of helping everyone as a whole.
“We don’t need a competition of who has it worse because that just further divides us,” Daniel said. “Now is the time to bring everybody together in this conversation of what anti-racism looks like and how can we dismantle these systems of oppression together.”
Contact Mackenzie Munn at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.