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Arts organizations and activists discuss land stewardship on Indigenous Peoples Day

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Today, October 11, marks Indigenous Peoples Day, an occasion that honors the history, cultures and continuing struggles of the Indigenous peoples of this land. It falls on the second Monday of the month, parallel to Columbus Day, which celebrates the infamous colonizer of the Americas. The date is often at the center of protests and events recognizing the history of the indigenous genocide. In recent years, the practice of land recognition has increased in American institutions, while protesters have expressed their opposition to the occupation of the Americas by overthrowing or degrading statues commemorating colonizing figures, such as Christopher Columbus.

In the wee hours of this morning, anonymous protesters painted the Andrew Jackson Memorial in Washington, DC with a message that read “Wait For Us” in red. The text is surrounded by bloody handprints, a symbol that represents solidarity with missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States. (Native American women are up to 10 times more likely to be murdered or sexually assaulted in some parts of the country, according to the US Department of Justice.)

Without claiming responsibility for the action, the Indigenous Environmental Network, a coalition of grassroots indigenous environmental activists, released an declaration saying today that the action was also aimed at protesting “extractive colonialism” and the arrest of hundreds of water protectors and land defenders who fought against the construction of the “Line 3”Pipeline from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin.

“Our people are older than the idea of ​​the United States of America,” the statement read. “We are the original stewards of this land and will continue to fight for the natural and spiritual knowledge of our Mother that sustains our ways of life.”

The group continued, “We are the grandchildren of the strong spirits who survived your residential schools, your pipelines and your mines, your reservations and your relocation and your forced assimilation and genocide. We carry the prayers and intentions of our ancestors and are not afraid. Another world is possible, that all the colonizers fall.

Theodore Roosevelt statue outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, disfigured in red paint (author’s photo for Hyperallergic)

In a similar action last week, unidentified protesters splashed red paint on the long-contested statue of Theodore Roosevelt on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. Protests against the statue, which features the former president flanked by anonymous black and native arms bearers in a position of servitude, dates back to 1971. This remains standing despite the museum’s decision to remove it over a year ago.

The statue has also been at the center of a number of artist-led protests, including the series of anti-Columbus day tours from 2016 to 2019. Decolonize This Place, the activist group leading the tours, posted a fanzine for Indigenous Peoples Day reflect on previous protests, which made known the links between artistic institutions and the legacies of colonization. On their last tour in 2019, the group marched with more than 700 AMNH protesters through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum.

Meanwhile, the New Museum in New York recognized today it sits on unceded Lenape land. Calling it a recognition of “living” land, the museum said it would “continue to revise and strengthen” the statement in collaboration with community members. The statement was drafted under the direction of Lenape Center, who previously advised the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Brooklyn Public Library on similar land surveys.

In a phone interview with Hyperallergic today, Lenape Center executive director Joe Baker explained that the idea behind a “living earth recognition” is to allow institutions to later answer the question, “What actions follow the words?

“It is up to the organization to create its own recognition of living land, but we encourage them to propose concrete measures that they will take for a more equitable future and to fight against this genocide,” said Baker.

Hadrien Coumans, co-founder and co-director of the Lenape Center, told Hyperallergic that the organization is currently working with the Brooklyn Public Library to co-host an exhibition of Lenape artists which will open in January 2022.

“It’s a shame that other institutions haven’t taken on this responsibility,” he said, adding that the Brooklyn Public Library was the first institution to make land recognition and follow it with action. .

Land approvals are a recent phenomenon in the United States, which lags behind countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It wasn’t until May of this year that the Met, the nation’s largest museum, issued a land recognition and engraved it on a plaque at its 5th Avenue location.

But as long as these statements avoid addressing the issue of returning the land to its original owners, they will remain hollow and unnecessary, according to Joseph pierce, Associate Professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages ​​and Literatures at Stony Brook University and Citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

“These statements are often empty gestures related to multicultural inclusion that obscure the reality of genocide, colonialism and the persistence of our displacement from our lands,” he told Hyperallergic in a statement. phone call.

“Recognizing that museums and universities were built on stolen land doesn’t change that fact,” Pierce continued. “While this recognition does not include a path to return land, it only serves to continue the displacement of indigenous peoples. ”

“A declaration that stops at a recognition of land is crucial for the return of indigenous peoples to their land,” said Pierce. “Cultural institutions are trying to ride the decolonial wave, but they are missing one thing: decolonial practice is not about what you say and what you know, but how you do things. ”

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