Speaker and storyteller Donna Edmonds Mitchell, also known as Minoweh Ikidowin (Cloud in the Wind), presented a lecture on Thursday evening in the Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center about identity and colonization in North America, titled “Thanksgiving and the Native American Genocide: an Evening with Minoweh Ikidowin.” The event was sponsored by Tufts Against Genocide (TAG).
Mitchell began the talk by emphasizing the importance of thinking with one’s heart, noting that Western ideology does not teach individuals to think in such a way.
“I want to ask you all to put down your intellectual ideas, and everything that I share with you today and that you share with me — I want it to come from your heart,” she said.
Mitchell encouraged students to reflect on their own origins, and audience members went around the room stating their ethnicities. She also asked them to think about their studies and career pursuits.
“So you are here learning a career, but a career is not who you are as a human being,” she said. “Who you are as a human being is that thing that has grown with you from the moment you could talk, or run or play.”
Western education has taught individuals to bury down what it is that is important to them, according to Mitchell.
“I’m here to tell you or suggest to you that if you’re manifesting a career by the very value of its monetary worth and you don’t love doing it, please don’t do it,” she said.
Mitchell underscored the importance of honoring other individuals’ experiences, even if they are different from one’s own, adding that actions speak louder than words, particularly in today’s digital age.
“When you operate with your heart, you actually are operating with the thing that my creator has given you to protect yourself, your conscience, your intuition,” she said.
She acknowledged, however, that the world is experiencing difficult conditions today.
“You’re living in the best of times and the worst of times right now, where everything in the world is collapsing in on itself,” she said. “You’re the generation that’s going to have to hold it up.”
Mitchell also cautioned the audience against overly strong attachments to materiality.
“You become a better human being by using less material things,” she said. “Don’t waste your life on anything that you don’t love.”
Next, Mitchell transitioned into a discussion of the consequences of colonization in North America.
“Most people don’t realize that native people, even during the time of colonization and conquering, we did not look at skin color,” she said. “We looked at hearts and whether your word was honorable — if you did what you said you’d promised you’d do.”
According to Mitchell, Native Americans originally set to befriend and welcome the people coming to North America prior to colonization, noting that individuals such as the Vikings and Russians came to trade in exchange for goods that both parties wanted.
“But then you had a group of people that came because of religious persecution,” she said, noting the arrival of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass.
Mitchell explained that these settlers had come seeking religious freedom, but upon arrival, they began to take away the ability of Native Americans to worship and have freedom of religion themselves.
“And not only that, to then judge us by the color of our skin,” she added. “These are all the things that you will study and learn about when you cross and intersect all the bridges that are not being taught in the books that you are currently reading.”
Mitchell also spoke about how many Native Americans were forced to give up their original languages. Further, since Native Americans did not have bounties upon them if captured as slaves did, European settlers took on more violent approaches, including scalping, she added. Native Americans were also confined to stay in one place, which Mitchell cited as a form of genocide.
Additionally, because of both consensual and nonconsensual sexual relations between European settlers and native populations, race became more difficult to categorize by the settlers and children no longer fit into their natural land base, according to Mitchell.
“And just like in all the wars all over the world, the men go and impregnate the women on those lands and leave the babies behind,” she said. “Isn’t the rule of life on most continents, the whiter, the brighter, the better?”
Mitchell said that these kinds of compartmentalization are forms of genocide.
“The only entity that can take my people and make them completely disappear is the creator, because whatever the creator gave birth and breath to, you cannot destroy, and you will not make us go away no matter how hard you try.”
After, Mitchell discussed environmental damage and increased pollution since the arrival of European settlers in North America.
“The land doesn’t need you, you need the land. The air doesn’t need you, you need the air. The water doesn’t need you, you need the water,” she said. “All those things that my people tried to teach you, and you said that was pagan.”
She concluded the talk with an anecdote about a question once posed to her by a professor concerning the greeting of the Pilgrims by Massasoit Sachem, or Ousamequin, leader of the Wampanoag.
“This professor asked me, ‘Do you wish Ousamequin had not greeted the newcomers when they came?'” she said. “I finally replied, ‘No’. If my people change their heart of welcoming and honor, then we became the conquerers, we became something that the creator didn’t make us out to be.”