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Students raise concern about Native misrepresentation on campus

Students raise concern about Native misrepresentation on campus

By: Amber Labahe Indy Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | Number of views (4704)

The Fort Lewis College’s clocktower panels display images of the college’s history, military post, and Native American boarding schools. 

The Charles Dale Rea Memorial Clocktower was named after the college’s first president from 1949 to 1962, and was completed in 2001.

 “I noticed it mostly had history of the college but no history to contribute to Native Americans,” Zjani Johnson, a sophomore FLC student said.

Students on campus have raised questions as to why the images do not accurately represent the stories about Native American boarding schools. 

Rather, the panels represent Native American boarding school experiences as a time in history which does not cover the full traumatic history

“The time is right for a close look at how we discuss the history of the institution, paying particular attention to our position as an institution of higher learning that grew out of a military fort and a BIA boarding school,” Jesse Peters, the dean of arts and sciences of FLC and chair of the Committee on FLC History, said.

President Thomas Stritikus said his focus is primarily on student success and that the clocktower panels do not include the full representation of boarding schools experienced by Native Americans.

“There is no predetermined outcome of our work to examine the panels and other public displays of FLC history,” Peters said, “We may replace the panels, clarify the panels, or we may acknowledge the history in other ways. Our paramount concern is making sure that Indigenous peoples, communities and nations have voice and provide guidance in how the boarding school history is represented.”

A meeting took place on Jan. 30 to discuss the care of the panels on the clocktower. 

FLC students sought to find solutions to create a better display of Native American history, including the boarding school information. 

However the student committee did not reach a solid decision as to what should be displayed on campus. 

Dr. Lee Bitsoi, director of diversity collaborative, attended the meeting in order to gain insight on the decision of suggesting new panels and encouraging the students to further represent their tribes. 

Bitsoi noted that Native Americans deal with feeling misrepresented through mass media. 

“We’re invisible as Native Americans because we’re not running around like Johnny Depp in Tonto with a dead bird on our heads with our faces painted different colors,” he said. 

Ernest House Jr., a senior policy director of Keystone and a member of the FLC board of trustees, attended the meeting and talked about FLC’s campus Native representation. 

He said their issue regarding the FLC panels created new voices of change.

“It’s not about the panels, this is so much more,” House said. “It’s really changing the perspectives of what non-Natives think about Native Americans.”

Arrin Paul, a Native American indigenous studies major and a member of the Shoshone tribe, voiced his concern at the meeting that the college campus needed to implement Native plants, as well as replacing the panels.

“We should talk about what the housing looked like,” Paul said, “What kind of conditions they lived in. We should talk about death and life. We should have a list of people who died at Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School. We should know who they are, we should know exactly who they are and how many there were.”

Paul said the college needs to include plants which are Native to the land because they possess medicine which benefits the community and ecosystem. 

The meeting further introduced topics of implementing stronger programs and suggestions about Native representation on campus. Several students spoke openly to the topic of creating a new display which involved a memorial exhibit to commemorate the experiences of Indigenous people forcibly attending boarding schools. 

The next FLC history discussion will take place Feb. 27 in the Vallecito Room located in the Student Union building. 

“We’re here for our students, we want to understand student perspectives and we want student perspectives to help shape the way we lead and guide the institution in the future,” Stritikus said.


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