UCHI Fellow’s Talk by Sandy Grande opens people’s minds to the way society should consider its Indigenous elders 

Struggles of indigenous people are not well explored. Read more about what can be done to change this. Photo by Julia Volk/Pexels.

When sprouts of discussion regarding Indigenous struggles surface, the conversations often do not last long. People immediately take their minds to the time of Christopher Columbus and how he robbed Native Americans of their land. There lies a belief that this trauma lives in the past, painting the problem as a grudge Indigenous people hold rather than a social issue that continues to damage their lives, along with their future generations.  

The University of Connecticut Humanities Institute hosted Sandy Grande, a UConn professor of political science and Native American Indigenous Studies, as she read excerpts from her book, “Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought,” to bring these issues to light. The contents of the book comprise personal accounts from Grande’s own experiences in what she has observed in herself as well as her family. She read parts from three chapters: “Waiting,” “Bodies” and “History.”  

Grande discussed “Waiting” first, sharing how she expressed much impatience as a child. She relayed a story about a sparrow that her mother, Ona, told her as a response to her impatience. In the fable, the sparrow feels an itching irritation: No one has told the humans that in order to survive, they must eat once every three days. Out of excitement and anticipation, the sparrow impulsively hurries to society and exclaims that humans must eat “three times a day! Three times a day!” The sparrow returns from its venture filled with pride and the expectation that the Creator will share that pride; however, the Creator actually meets the sparrow with disappointment. The Creator explains to the sparrow that the news was not the sparrow’s to share and that the sparrow didn’t even tell the news correctly.  

Grande explained how the story should encourage listeners to appreciate “the beauty of slowness.” This advice altered Grande’s view on elders in her culture. She began to see them as “portals to elsewhere.” Such people, Grande explained, are vital to life as they save future generations from the “capitalist race to nowhere.”  

The second chapter Grande read was “Bodies.” The way she described it, bodies act as sponges of the experiences we have in our own lives as well as those our ancestors had. She makes a point of the notion of settler precarity and how it acts as the culprit for the attitudes of colonizers. While such precarity has been blanketed and masked by the growth and development of civilization, the bodies of Indigenous people still have the original mark of it. Their bodies are the only proof of the original land and the true beginning of American history. Consequently, their bodies act as walking reminders of colonization and their losses. While the majority of society may find this history easy to conceal, Native Americans are reminded of the tragedy every time they look in a mirror.  

However, this can create something positive, as these bodies also act as sponges of spirit. In turn, Grande described the bodies of Indigenous people as “bodies of refusal.” While it is unfortunate that Indigenous people need to encapsulate such a spirit in response to society’s attempts to erase them, their fire still burns and their perseverance shines through. They carry the notion of  “will not let die” to express such a refusal. 

The final chapter Grande read was “Mind.” In this chapter, Grande defines “Apu,” a term in Native American culture that means “spirit of the mountain” or “lord/protector.” She explained that mountains symbolize the relationship between humans and land in Indigenous culture — one of the biggest, and if not the biggest, thing Indigenous people had pride in and lost.  

Historical trauma is real and cumulative. This trauma bleeds into the way Indigenous people lead their lives today. In this increasingly digital society, they feel a loss of control and gain a sense of being watched and monitored. Most people, especially those who have grown up in the digital age, interpret the constant monitoring of their lives as a mode of security, not intrusion. However, most people have not faced the trauma that Indigenous people have. They feel these overbearing actions of technology as a method of stripping people of the satisfaction to problem solve, build connections and wander.  

This lecture was intended to educate people with an explanation as to why Indigenous people live their lives in the way that they do. They do so out of fear of the past and how it continues to make an imprint on present-day civilization. The topic is spoken about — but not enough — and Grande’s lecture was one step toward changing that.  

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