For a liberal-arts college that claims to champion self-expression, tolerance and acceptance for all peoples, St. Olaf offers little in the way of recognizing indigenous people and the role they have played in the history of St. Olaf land. I can’t speak for everyone, but considerations regarding the Native Americans who were forcibly removed from the land we now comfortably exist upon are not exactly at the forefront of my thoughts while I go about my daily activities on campus.
Part of the reasoning for this may be that what happened between Native Americans and imposing Europeans occured many years ago, far from the fringes of our modern-day troubles, and for this reason such concerns aren’t innately within a common realm of understanding. This unintentional lack of recognition may be innocent enough, but it’s perpetrated by individuals who believe that the struggle between indigenous people and any foreign settlers is ultimately justified. To some who have adapted this ideology, the injustices inflicted during this struggle for land, culture and life were unfortunate but in the past, and our country would do well to acknowledge them and move on, because, much like slavery and racism, “they just don’t exist anymore.” This line of thought fails to address the need for adequate education within public and private spaces that will nurture widespread understanding of the original inhabitants of this land and encourage the implementation of active methods to better remember their struggle.
Such awareness is important not only because the annihilation of an entire group of people from their native land is a heinous act, but further because this is a crime that has recurred throughout our world’s history and continues to occur today. In this way, residents of the United States seem to be more apt at acknowledging mass murders in other countries – the Holocaust, the South Sudan genocide, the current Rohingya persecution – but are reluctant to face the genocide that occured on the very ground we walk upon.
“Acknowledging the injustice that took place almost two-hundred years ago is the first step toward positive change.” – Kathryn Childs ’21
Modern activism efforts such as the Wounded Knee and Standing Rock protests seemed to temporarily crack the American shell of naiveté, but, just like many other outcries, efforts to bring attention to this national issue eventually faded away into another moment of passion to be forgotten. The question remains: what can be done to educate – and continue to educate – people about the history of the land we now live on?
As an institution, St. Olaf College has a responsibility to educate all who attend or work for the college about the Ojibwe and Dakota people’s history because these groups were original inhabitants of southern Minnesota, and their influence remains within the area today. Strides are being made in Northfield, what with the recent declaration of Indigenous People’s Day on Oct. 8 and sculpture by Kris Swanson outside the Center for Art and Dance (CAD) that commemorates Dakota land. Regardless, immense work still needs to be done on the part of the College and Northfield to continue increasing awareness of such a complicated history.
Part of the reason why there isn’t ample representation may be that students and faculty simply aren’t aware of the influence the Ojibwe and Dakota people have on this land. Requiring students to take a course on the history of local indigenous people, offering a Native American Studies major or concentration, displaying more artwork like the arch outside of CAD or offering a tribute to indigenous struggles before a class, presentation or orientation are all easily implemented methods of increasing awareness and respect for Native Americans on campus.
Acknowledging the injustice that took place almost two hundred years ago is the first step toward positive change. Educating others about their past and present struggles is the second, and the third is making intentional attempts to bring justice through policy and representation.
Things can improve here at St. Olaf. It’s a matter of being willing as an institution and as a student body to not let the relevance of what the Ojibwe and Dakota people went through fade away into mere words on the page of an uninvested history book. Recognize the struggle. Respect those who were and are affected by it. Educate others. And decide to remember.
Kathryn Childs ’21 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Rockford, Ill. Her major is undecided.