On October 14th, Kansas State University’s held its Indigenous People’s Day conference, “Asserting Sovereignty: Innovations and Battlegrounds.” K-State brought in two guest speakers, Sarah Deer, J.D. who presented “Sovereignty of the Soul,” and Susan Faircloth, Ph.D. who presented “Education as an Impediment or Imperative of Sovereignty?”
In “Sovereignty of the Soul,” Sarah Deer holds the federal government responsible for infringing on the sovereignty of tribal nations and the subsequent price Native women pay through the highest violence rates in America. Deer said that 84% of women experience violence and 97% of those crimes are committed by non-natives.
The Major Crimes Act of 1885 limited tribal authority to prosecute criminal cases, leaving many cases unprosecuted by the federal government. Deer said that 51.6% of Native women are sexually assaulted, a continuation of the use of rape as an instrument of war on Native Americans. Colonists claimed women’s bodies as property just as they claimed the land. But Native people have rights to individual sovereignty or the “Inherent power of a person to control and respond to one’s own internal and external relationships.”
Deer challenged her audience to protect their people fighting for sovereign rights. There are historic records that document that Native Americans had laws addressing rape and that instances were extremely low. Advocates, like Deer, fight to restore the sovereign right to uphold tribal laws. Progress on this front has slowly been made through new federal laws like the Violence Against Women Act of 2013. Deer’s message was clear. Until tribal sovereignty is recognized and Native women safe, there is still have much to fight for.
Susan Faircloth addresses educational sovereignty issues in her speech, “Education as an Impediment or Imperative of Sovereignty?” She believes that it is both. Historically education has been used against Native Americans. Boarding schools were created to re-educate Native American youth. The forced acculturation aimed to remove Native American identity. Without a Native Identity, how can Native Americans exercise sovereignty? Faircloth said that schools today still impede Native Sovereignty by teaching Native Students a statemandated curriculum that often excludes or inaccurately portrays Native American history.
However, education is a tool that can be used in different ways. Reclaiming education taught by Natives for Natives is imperative. Reservation schools can provide Native lead curriculums, and efforts can be made to connect culture and education. For example, Faircloth mentions Native-led math programs centered on salmon. She also provides examples of her efforts as a mother to exercise sovereignty for the education of her child. Many educators don’t see the effects of colonialism and how the curriculum is problematic for Native Americans. Re-education of revisionist history is imperative for Faircloth. By encouraging schools to hire specialists in cultural sensitivity and awareness, she believes this is doable.
Sarah Deer and Susan Faircloth only represented part of K-State’s Indigenous People’s Day conference. Momentum carried on throughout the afternoon with the theme of “Asserting Sovereignty.” These included film screening, breakout panels, and “Settler Colonial Realism: Historical Considerations for Contemporary Educational Sovereignty” by Meridith McCoy, Ph.D., and more.