To Whom It May Concern:
Hello, my name is Millicent Pepion. I represent the Navajo and Blackfeet Nations here at Haskell Indian Nations University. I am a junior enrolled in the Indigenous and American Indian Studies program. I feel this is an important program because it educates me about the history of my people and the sacrifices my family made who attended HINU, or schools such as this one, before me. It also empowers me to stand up for what I believe in concerning current Native American issues.
Before HINU was a university, it was the United States Industrial Training Institute, a boarding school created with the sole purpose of assimilating members of tribal nations into the western culture; sometimes through force. Children and adults were stripped of their identity, forced to speak English, forget their customs, and adopt the strictest of disciplines so that the US Government could “kill the Indian and save the man.” One of the central themes of this form of hegemony was the notion of individualism, to forgo ones people for the sake of property. We, of this generation, are lucky in that HINU no longer forces us to relinquish our personal values. It is through the strength and resiliency of our ancestors that we have the opportunity to rebuild our nations, break down century-long prejudices, and correct cultural injustices.
This year at HINU’s Art Market I was hoping to build a sense of community between the students, staff, and faculty of Haskell and the city of Lawrence. With a sense of honor, pride, respect and cooperation, I, and other Haskell students, wanted to conduct free tours of the Medicine Wheel. These tours would promote positive images of current HINU students, to show that “Indian Art,” was not just a commodity to be bought and sold. I also made sure to take all the necessary steps to ensure that the tours would be safe, accounting for possible injury or other emergency by working with the Lawrence Police and Fire Department. However, I was told by the Indian Art Market committee, that the “Indian Art market is only about buying and selling.” This struck me as a both disrespectful and uncooperative. HINU has core responsibilities that all students, staff and faculty are expected to commit to in order to promote excellence. These are: Accountability, Respect, Cooperation, and Honesty. Haskell’s mission statement also clearly reiterates these values:
“Haskell Indian Nations University, the premier national intertribal university, empowers American Indian and Alaska Native scholars for leadership and service to sovereign first nations and the world by virtue of its excellent academic programs and research, creative activities, and culturally diverse student experiences.”
However this Art Market Committee does not seem to be complying with these same values.
Accountability is (according to HINU) to be responsible, accountable, and dependable for our conduct, behavior, and attitudes as we strive for excellence in our respective roles.
While it is understandable that the Art Market serves as source of revenue for Haskell Indian Nations University, and as a venue for students and artists to make money, to deny any other sort of activity (which seeks community education rather than monetary gain), is not only being unaccountable to the students, but also being unaccountable to Indian Country. Pure commerce, with the selling point of Indianism, is a disservice to tribal nations and those who suffered for the sake of this generation.
Respect is to honor the diversity of beliefs, rights, responsibilities, culture, and accomplishments of self and others.
A failure to compromise or include the art of the Medicine Wheel is not only disrespectful to us as students, but also disrespectful to the surrounding community, which can only serve to gain from the knowledge and sacristy of the Medicine Wheel. While some people might see the Medicine Wheel as simply a patch of mowed grass, to presuppose that all peoples would see it this way, is not honoring diversity of beliefs, rights, responsibilities, cultures, and especially accomplishments.
Cooperation is to work with one another to accomplish good for Haskell Indian Nations University and for the American Indian/Alaska Native Nation.
Through peaceful talks and discussion, with the goal of cooperative compromise, I had hoped that I could be a part of the Art Market, and to develop positive relations within the Haskell community. Unfortunately, it is apparent that the Art Market Committee has no intention of cooperation and would rather stay the course with all the negative implications that it might cause.
Honesty is to be truthful and open in our relationships with employees, students, and with each other.
By not allowing us to give these tours as part of the HINU Art Market they are selling the image of the current Native American as someone who is content with HINU’s current situation involving the perceptions of culture. That anything and everything is available for sale at the right price. But I am not for sale. The wetlands that the Medicine Wheel rests in are not for sale. Our culture is not for sale. However, the committee is selling a negative stereotype of our people. The Art Market should be accountable for the conduct, behavior, and attitude towards Native American’s respective roles. They should respect our image as knowledgeable, diverse students interested in preserving our beliefs, rights, and cultures. They should cooperate with HINU students in accomplishing these events for the better of us all, being honest in their intent.
By refusing to allow free tours of the Haskell Medicine Wheel, HINU’s Art Market committee chooses to continue a cycle of cultural abuse and current Native American issue abandonment. By doing so, they continue a negative stereotype of Native Americans. When will it be appropriate to demonstrate that, after years of abuse, Native Americans will no longer stand for cultural injustices? I refuse to leave this call for action and decision-making to the next generation. I take full responsibility for what my generation should be doing now. And so this weekend at HINU’s Art Market I will protest the perpetuation of the stereotypical Native American selling their culture, the proposed South Lawrence Trafficway plan 32b, and the notion that we are powerless to make a proactive difference in our community. I look forward to greeting your patrons. If you would like to participate please contact me
Millicent M. Pepion
Phone: (480) 258-2930